In 2007 the CEB endorsed the UN climate neutral strategy asking UN organizations to measure, reduce and ultimately offset UN GHG emission from facilities and operations.
In its Strategic Plan 2013-2016, the HLCM decided that “in considering innovative business models, HLCM will seek to achieve measurable progress to enhance environmental sustainability of UN operations”. To do so, it committed to “the development and implementation of environmental sustainability management systems in each organization” at a variable speed depending on the readiness of its individual members. HLCM requested UNEP to continue their work of coordination, and technical support, and to report to the HLCM on collective achievements and forward planning on behalf of the EMG.
In 2014 EMG and UNEP gathered resources to be able to provide at least part of the needed support to UN organizations in implementing such decisions: via a partnership with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, HLCM members will be able to benefit from the expertise, capacity building and tailored assistance for the implementation of environment management systems; EMG and UNEP also obtained funding from the Harmonized Business Practices trust fund for measuring and enhancing the resource efficiency of UN facilities and operations.
On the occasion of the September 2014 UN Climate Summit, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent a letter to all CEB members and UN funds and programmes indicating that “It is my expectation that the United Nations system reaches full compliance with the United Nations Climate Neutral Strategy and becomes effectively climate neutral by 2020 at the latest” . He explicitly tasked UNEP and UNFCCC to provide support to agencies in meeting the climate neutrality objectives.
The Committee reviewed for adoption the system-wide road map for UN climate neutrality by 2020 and the related goals towards enhancing environmental sustainability of UN operations.
In her introduction, the Chair underlined that the CEB endorsed climate neutrality in 2007 and, although there had been significant progress, the pace towards achieving that goal should increase. She reiterated the importance of partnerships and affirmed that that the full UN system needs to stand behind the Secretary General in emphasizing the objective of climate neu1rality and lead by example.
UNEP, as chair of the EMG, presented the background and highlights of the Action Plan, which would does provide for a prescribed way to reach climate neutrality by 2020, as no one size fits all. The Plan instead provides for approaches to measure and report on progress, including identification of baselines and targets (a component of the Plan funded by the HLCM HBP project), the identification of best practices for financing of sustainable measures, the allocation of responsibilities to EMG partners, and the budgetary assessment.
As an example of what can be done, and has been done, FAO presented its experience, primarily focused on facilities, but also accompanied by a culture change among staff, which has had an even greater impact on the environment. The importance of culture change was re-iterated by several other organizations during the discussion.
The discussion that followed provided numerous examples of what organizations have been able to achieve in the last few years in moving towards climate neutrality. Some of the initiatives mentioned included: improvements of facilities in conjunction with renovations, reductions in travel, use of public private partnerships, use of solar power, reduced printing, reduction in emissions from ships, and tracking of emissions. Based on these examples, the consensus of the Committee was that the UN system would certainly be able to reach climate neutrality by 2020, or even earlier, and that all of these initiatives positively affected the overall efficiency of operations.
Carbon offsets were mentioned as a one of the tools to reach the goal of climate neutrality. However, a concern was unanimously raised that the currently low carbon offset prices represented an easy avenue to reach climate neutrality. It was broadly agreed that, instead, organizations would need to focus on actual footprint reductions as the main tool to reach the goal.
The Committee re-iterated the commitment for the HLCM to be closely engaged in the process and agreed to continue being the body for EMG reporting and monitoring of progress. In this context, the Action Plan was unanimously endorsed.
In line with the 2007 UN Climate Neutrality Strategy and the Strategic Plan for Environmental Sustainability Management that was endorsed in 2013:
a) Committed to reach Climate Neutrality by 2020 through a combination of emission reduction initiatives and purchase of offsets; and b) Adopted the UN Roadmap towards Climate Neutrality by 2020.
Recognized that while carbon offsets are an important tool, focus should be placed on reducing the actual carbon footprint of the UN System.
To achieve these system-wide goals, HLCM members agreed to integrate the objective of “improved environmental sustainability of UN operations” in the respective programming of facilities and operations, including designing organization-specific action plans.