The UN reports on its carbon footprint

A report produced for the UN as a whole, and written by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), calculates that the UN’s total greenhouse gas emissions for 2009 stood at 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, or 8.3 tonnes per capita.

Around 37 percent of emissions are from buildings and 13 percent are from vehicles. Over 50% of the UN’s emissions are from air travel (4.1 tonnes per capita). Around 37% are from buildings and 13% from vehicles.

The report covers the UN’s 52 institutions, covering 200,000 employees. The emissions calculations in the report are based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a 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. The International Civil Aviation Organization’s Carbon Emissions Calculator was used for computing the air travel portion of the greenhouse gas inventory.

The report, Moving Towards a Climate Neutral UN, provides a progress update on implementation of UN’s Climate Neutral Strategy. The Strategy requires UN bodies to estimate their greenhouse gas emissions, undertake efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and analyse the cost implications of purchasing carbon offsets.

Among the immediate priorities outlined in the report is the development and adoption of Emission Reduction Strategies for all UN organisations, in order to help map progress towards greater sustainability.

These include greenhouse gas inventories and efforts to reduce emissions, as well as other aspects of sustainability, such as greater use of recycled materials and implementing greener procurement procedures.

Many UN organisations are also calculating the financial implications of emission reduction measures. Short-term investment may be required in most cases, but the payback time is likely to be short.

One UN agency estimated that up-front investment for video-conferencing equipment would total US$3.3 million, but that the resulting 10% reduction in air travel would lead to year-one cost savings of US4.6 million and a reduction of 1225 tonnes of CO2.