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UN Secretariat adopts plan to halve own emissions by 2030

The United Nations Secretariat has adopted a new 10-year Climate Action Plan aimed at transforming its operations to achieve a 45 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and sourcing 80 per cent of electricity from renewable energy by 2030.

Antonio Guterres  UN Secretariat adopts plan to halve own emissions by 2030 Guterres addresses the UN after the oath ceremony
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General

The Plan was adopted just ahead of the Climate Action Summit, which is hosted by the UN Secretary-General to help increase global ambition and vastly increase action to limit climate change.

The global operations of the UN Secretariat represent approximately 58 per cent of the reported greenhouse gas emissions from the entire UN system, according to the latest Greening the Blue report, issued on Friday by the United Nations Environment Programme. 

The UN Secretariat is the largest entity within the UN system and include peace operations faced with difficult security, logistic and political conditions in the most fragile regions of the world. It therefore plays a critical role in the UN achieving its internal sustainability goals.

The Secretary-General has committed the organisation to lead by example and has called for transformative action to address the climate crisis, including on the part of the UN system and Secretariat itself.

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The new Climate Action Plan has been designed to transform UN Secretariat operations to align with the goals of the 2018 IPCC report that found there were clear benefits to limiting climate change to 1.5 °C. The Plan follows the IPCC recommendations on carbon emissions reduction.

To drive its action to 2030, the Secretariat is setting quantitative and performance targets. The Plan aims to achieve absolute and per capita greenhouse gas emission reductions of 25 per cent by 2025 and 45 per cent by 2030. It would do this through per capita reductions in electricity consumption of 20 per cent by 2025 and 35 per cent by 2030 and sourcing 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy before 2025 and 80 per cent by 2030. Other quantitative targets address the climate impact of commercial air travel and events.

The Plan also commits the organisation to ongoing climate neutrality for its global operations.

According to the Greening the Blue report, the UN Secretariat is climate neutral this year ahead of the UN System goal of 2020 using UNFCCC certified carbon credits.  The UN emitted 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) in 2018 – or 7 tCO2eq per capita.

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The report found that a total of 55 UN entities were climate neutral for 2018, representing 95 per cent of the System’s reported greenhouse gas emissions – a significant increase from 39 per cent for the previous year. The UN entities generated 45 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions from its facilities, such as headquarter offices, field offices, and logistic centres, 42 per cent from air travel, and 13 per cent from other modes of travel.

The targets of the UN Secretariat Climate Action Plan will be achieved by intensifying existing environmental management efforts, fostering innovative solutions, changing the organizational culture and partnering with external stakeholders. Intensification is estimated to bring a significant carbon reduction in the 30 per cent range. Innovative interventions to complete an energy transition with a broad range of partners will lead the organisation towards the goal of 45 per cent reduction.

Among these interventions, the UN Secretariat is seeking to catalyse the development of new climate smart infrastructure in difficult operational areas to meet its peace operations and local communities’ energy needs in partnerships with other climate champions that share its vision.

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In undergoing its own transformation and energy transition in a multi-stakeholder effort, the Secretariat aims to achieve direct economic and sustainable development co-benefits, with long-term operational efficiencies, improved integration of UN climate action at the country level, and a positive impact for the vulnerable communities where the UN Secretariat operates and which it serves.

Building on existing efforts in field missions and throughout the Secretariat, the organisation has already accelerated environmental sustainability in its operations in recent months. It promulgated an environmental policy in September 2019 and committed to climate neutrality for its global operations ahead of the UN 2020 climate neutrality goal.

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