UNITED NATIONS, Jun 1, 2012 (IPS) – As the international community readies for a global mega-
conference on sustainable development in Brazil mid-June, the
United Nations is determined to practice what it preaches to
the outside world: improve resource efficiency and drastically
reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions.
With over 50,000-60,000 participants worldwide scheduled to arrive in
Rio de Janeiro, the U.N. staff delegation to the U.N. Conference on
Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, has been minimised to
approximately 1,400 – primarily for economic and environmental
But even so, the 1,400 participants, according to U.N. statistics,
will generate an estimated 3,600 tonnes of carbon emissions, largely
from air travel.
And so the president of the 193-member General Assembly, Ambassador
Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar, has offered his strong support
for a Carbon Emissions Offsetting Initiative (CEOI).
The aim: to offset the carbon footprint from U.N. staff travelling to
Brazil and participating in Rio+20 summit.
A carbon footprint has been defined as the total amount of greenhouse
gases produced to support human activities, and is traditionally
expressed in equivalent tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).
The CEOI, the brainchild of the Special Unit for South-South
Cooperation in the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), is aimed at a
“climate neutral U.N. participation at Rio+20”.
“I look forward to a resounding success of this U.N. system-wide
Carbon Emissions Offsetting Initiative at Rio+20,” Ambassador Al-
In a letter to Yiping Zhou, head of the Special Unit for South-South
Cooperation, Dr. Mutlaq Al-Qahtani, ambassador and chef de cabinet,
said “the President of the General Assembly commends your team’s
creativity and your leadership in responding to our collective
commitment to ‘walking the talk’ on climate change”.
The CEOI also has the blessings of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and
Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang, head of the Department of
Economic and Social Affairs and secretary-general of Rio+20.
Both officials will join Ambassador Al-Nasser during the launch of
the initiative on Jun. 21 as part of a side event at Rio+20 in
The Special Unit has been mandated to facilitate the initiative by
building partnerships and leveraging the services of its flagship
exchange platform: South-South Global Assets and Technology Exchange
(SS-GATE) to offset the estimated 3,600 tonnes of CO2 emissions from
the U.N.’s participation in Rio+20.
According to the Special Unit, SS-GATE will offset the emissions with
Gold Standard Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) generated from
Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects with a priority for
projects in the 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
The CDM allows emissions-reduction projects in developing countries
to earn CER credits, each equivalent to one tonne of CO2.
CERs can be traded and sold, and used by industrial countries to meet
a part of their targets under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
The Special Unit says that with more than 3,600 registered projects
in 72 developing countries, the CDM has proven to be a powerful
mechanism to deliver finance for emissions-reduction projects and
contribute to sustainable development.
To date, about 1,270 projects in 45 countries have issued a total of
more than 780 million CERs.
The Special Unit also points out that SS-GATE has recently offset
over 3,500 tonnes CO2 emissions from two major U.N. events: the U.N.
Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, China and the 2011
Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa.
The Special Unit’s key partners include the the Department of
Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and its Rio+20 Secretariat, the
U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC) and the UNDP’s
Environment and Energy Group and its Bureau for Development Policy.
Meanwhile, in a report released in April, the U.N. Environment
Programme (UNEP) points out that over 50 percent of the U.N.’s
greenhouse gas emissions are from air travel (4.2 tonnes per capita)
making this the biggest challenge for the organisation in reducing
its overall emissions.
In its third annual report titled “Moving Towards a Climate Neutral
U.N.,” the report details a wide range of actions taken across the
U.N. system to improve resource efficiency and cut the organisation’s
“These include encouraging train journeys over air travel, providing
bicycles for staff members, installing efficient lighting systems in
U.N. offices or using e-conferencing instead of traveling to
meetings,” it says.
According to the report, the U.N.’s 2010 emissions for 54 entities in
hundreds of locations (and over 200,000 employees) show that the
U.N.’s total greenhouse gas emissions were 1.8 million tonnes of CO2
“This is the same amount of carbon sequestered annually by 383,795
acres of pine or fir forests, an area the size of the Faroe Islands.”
In the foreword to the report, Ban said “the United Nations system is
strongly committed to leading by example and ensuring that our
operations are continuously monitored and improved – not just in
terms of what we deliver, but also how we deliver.”
“We are also looking to this year’s U.N. Conference on Sustainable
Development – Rio+20 – to generate ideas that will energize
sustainability efforts worldwide,” he added.
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