The United Nations emitted over 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent in 2014 - the same as the annual CO2 emissions from 191,019 US homes or from consuming 4,868,772 barrels of oil, according to the organization's annual reporting of its greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, efforts to reduce emissions continued across the UN with 18 UN system organizations reporting having an Emissions Reduction Strategy and at least nine implementing an Environment Management System or reaching the highest standards in building management.
As many as 21 organizations have gone further and become climate neutral through the purchase of carbon credits, with one further agency offsetting emissions from its headquarters. These offsets amount to 676,997 tonnes of CO2 equivalent or 32 per cent of the UN's total reported emissions for 2014.
The latest edition of Moving Towards a Climate Neutral UN, released today, details the emissions from 65 United Nations organizations, covering over 250,000 personnel around the world. A total of 62 agencies reported updated data for their 2014 activities, with an additional three agencies supplying data from previous years.
In previous years air travel had accounted for over 50 per cent of emissions, but for 2014 the proportion of emissions from air travel was reduced to (44 per cent) making it similar to emissions from facilities (43 per cent). This is in large part due to new data submitted for Field Missions DFS/DPA/DPKO, which report a high proportion of emissions from facilities. These Field Missions account for more than half of the UN's total personnel and greenhouse gas emissions, meaning their apportionment has a significant influence on the final figures for the UN system as a whole.
The report includes examples of recent initiatives to taken across the UN to reduce emissions including:
- The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) became the first UN entity to be awarded Platinum LEED certification in the Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance category, for its Rome HQ. Key factors of IFAD's success were the buy-in and support of senior management, enthusiastic engagement of staff, e.g. through participation in a commuting survey and supporting improved waste management and the no-smoking policy. Contractors and suppliers have also been engaged with working towards LEED standards.
- In just one year, between 2013 and 2014, UNICEF Zimbabwe reduced its waste-to-landfill by over 50%, cut carbon emissions from electricity generation by 36% and reduced water usage by over 10%. New technologies were introduced across the office, for example replacing two large electricity generators with four small ones, allowing greater flexibility on energy production, and work with staff resulting in more recycling and reduced waste in the canteen.
- In September the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) launched its Climate Neutral Now initiative, which encourages and enables organizations, companies and individuals to measure, reduce and offset their emissions direct with UN-certified climate credits.
In his introduction to this year's report, the Secretary-General highlights the significance of the COP21 summit on climate change this December and the work the UN is doing in the context of global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
'It is only right that the UN is taking action and proving - through trial and error - that it is possible for large, public sector organizations to manage their greenhouse gas emissions. We encourage other organizations that haven't already done so to follow our lead and join the journey on this path.'
The report provides an update on progress in implementing the 2007 Climate Neutral UN Strategy, which was approved the UN Chief Executive Board and committed all agencies, funds and programmes to move towards climate neutrality within the wider context of greening the UN. Specifically, the Strategy requires UN bodies to estimate their greenhouse gas emissions, to undertake efforts to reduce their emissions and to offset emissions ahead of 2020.
The emissions calculations in the report were compiled using internationally recognized guidance based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a widely used methodology developed by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. The UN greenhouse gas inventory includes emissions from all activities that are under the direct financial control of the Organization, such as the heating and cooling of buildings and the travel of staff members.