UN Strengthens Environmental Governance to Reduce Carbon Footprint


by | Dec 15, 2022

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According to a new report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations entities strengthened their environmental governance and staff training in 2021, signaling another year of steady progress toward improving the organization’s environmental sustainability.

The UN is intensifying its efforts towards making its buildings and operations more environmentally and socially sustainable as it works to battle the effects of the triple planetary crisis. The UN Secretary-General believes that enhancing internal environmental sustainability and minimizing environmental damage are essential components of successful leadership.

This strategy has resulted in advancements at both the system-wide level and among specific UN institutions, according to the 2022 edition of the Greening the Blue Report, an annual publication that examines the environmental effect of more than 307,000 UN people in 53 reporting entities.

Strategy for Sustainability Management

By 2025, all UN system institutions are to have implemented environmental management systems (EMS), according to the organization’s Sustainability Strategy.

In 2021, there were twice as many UN organizations with environmental management systems as there were in 2020. The requirements for deploying these systems are currently met or on the verge of being achieved by 33% of entities. The percentage of UN organizations that have or are putting into place policies, standards, and processes to recognize and address environmental and social problems increased to 56%.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The UN system’s greenhouse gas emissions fell from around 1.5 million tonnes in 2021 to about 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Emissions per capita decreased by 1 tonne from 2020 to 4 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. Facilities contributed 56% of the emissions from UN systems, while air travel and other travel accounted for 29% and 15%, respectively.

“These improvements are encouraging and show that the UN system is on the right track,” says Ligia Noronha, Head of UNEP’s New York Office. “However, continued efforts are required to reach the UN’s target of ensuring that all entities have an environmental management system in 2025. The UN system must continue to show strong leadership and align its environmental performance with the principles that it has pioneered internationally.”

Global Impact

Last month, at COP27, two dozen building organizations called on government representatives to commit to decarbonization efforts in the built environment, which they say is a leading driver of climate impacts.

The organizations also urge the adoption of tactics tailored to specific geographic areas, since these may be utilized to raise industry sustainability in the most efficient and economical ways. Additionally, they aim to boost buildings’ resistance to natural disasters, which would lengthen their useful lives and reduce carbon emissions without the need for reconstruction or other upgrades.

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