U.N. urged by own staff to look at its climate footprint

Fri 20 Sep 2019 19:13 GMT | 23:13 Local Time

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Close to 2,000 United Nations employees have called for the global body to reduce its carbon footprint, including through curbs on their own diplomatic perks like business-class flights and travel handouts, Reuters reports.

The United Nations calls climate change the “defining issue of our time” and is hosting a New York summit on it next week. But reformers within say in the letter addressed to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that it needs more radical change to get its own house in order.

“Our commitments need to be more ambitious and at least as concrete as those of the UN Member States and non-party stakeholders attending the UN Climate Action Summit,” said the letter, signed by at least 1,950 employees. It was organized by a group called Young UN, an internal network committed to ensuring the organization embodies the principles it stands for.

“As Greta Thunberg just sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and young people across the world continue to strike every Friday, let us look at our own impact and take bold steps to address the climate emergency,” the letter said, referring to the Swedish teenager who has inspired global climate strikes.

The United Nations emitted 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2018, according to its own data which includes both the 44,000 secretariat staff present in more than 60 countries as well as tens of thousands of interns, contractors and peacekeeping troops deployed worldwide.

That equates to a carbon footprint larger than several of its member states, including Malta and Liberia, according to statistics from the Global Carbon Atlas for 2017.

Among 10 issues identified by Young UN are travel allowances, which the letter said needed to be cut or scrapped “in order to disincentivize travel by UN employees and UN meeting participants motivated by financial gain”.

Allowances, or per diems as they are known internally, are intended to cover travel costs including food and accommodation and can exceed $400 a day for some locations such as New York, according to the International Civil Service Commission website.

The letter also suggested that staff should be rewarded for downgrading from a business class, where a spacious seat generates several times the emissions of an economy class ticket.

Travel accounts for nearly half the United Nations’ emissions, its data show. Last year, under pressure from member states, the head of the U.N. Environment Programme, Erik Solheim, stepped down amid criticism of his travels.

Other reforms recommended in the letter include a complete divestment of the more than $60 billion U.N. pension fund from fossil fuels and creating offices run entirely on renewable energy. Young UN did not respond to requests for comment.

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