The questions for the heads of state and government and their entourages who plan to attend next week’s Climate Summit in New York were a bit more personal than they’re used to getting from conference organizers.
What airport are they leaving from? Which one are they going to? Are they flying first class or coach?
The prying was all part of an attempt by the United Nations to practice what it preaches—by making the Summit a climate-neutral event.
That information helped them calculate the carbon load created by the 5,000 people planning to descend next week on the UN Headquarters compound so that it can be offset.
The push toward a climate-neutral Summit has extended beyond asking about flight plans. Participants are encouraged to stay at hotels near public transportation; to avoid using disposable items and bottles; to consume locally produced, organic food and drinks whenever possible; and to donate any surplus food to non-profit organizations in New York.
Organizers, too, have done their share.
When participants get to the Headquarters compound, where the Summit is to be held on 23 September, they will find little in the way of paper handouts. Instead, they’ll get the vast majority of what they need to know electronically.
The slimming down extends to the kinds of “goodie bags” stuffed with tschochkes that conference organizers typically hand out at such events. Even the accreditation badges will be collected for reuse.
Carbon emissions from air travel were measured using a carbon calculator available on the website of the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is a specialized UN agency.
The information was then plugged into the calculator, which weighs various factors — including aircraft types, route-specific data, passenger load factors and cargo carried – before popping out a number.
For example, a round-trip flight in coach class from Beijing to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport would create 1.58 tons of carbon dioxide, according to a carbon emissions calculator posted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (it is also available as an iPhone and Android app).
By measuring the climate footprint of the event, reducing its emissions where possible and offsetting what cannot be reduced with UN-certified emission reductions, the UN system is “walking the talk” and demonstrating the steps that any individual, corporation, event or government can take to contribute to a climate-neutral future, according to Ban.
Carbon offsets come from the Clean Development Mechanism and are purchased from the Adaptation Fund, thereby contributing to both mitigation and adaptation work in developing countries.
The offsets are credits for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions made at another location, such as a wind farm in India, or a clean cook stove project in Uganda. Each credit represents one ton of emissions avoided or captured.
The cost of reducing each ton of carbon dioxide is less than $1.
The UN has estimated that the Summit will create 18,639 tons of CO2. Total cost to offset: about $6,000.
The funds will be transferred from the UN Secretariat to the UNFCCC secretariat, which will buy Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) from the Adaptation Fund and confirm that the offset has occurred.
Mr. Ban said that, as the world addresses the climate challenge and strives towards a new universal and meaningful agreement, “the organization must lead by example.”
That effort got underway in 2007, when the UN committed to making the entire system climate-neutral.
That’s no small goal, given that the UN comprises more than 220,000 staff members in 64 institutions or offices.
In all, annual CO2 emissions exceed 1.7 million tons, or more than seven tons per staff member. Air travel represents more than half (51%) of the total.
But some of its agencies are already climate-neutral.
The climate-neutral goal extends to how the UN handles its pension funds.
As of last week, the UN’s portfolio held $53.7 billion, 61 per cent of which was equities. An analysis of the fund found that it was 8.23 per cent more carbon-efficient than its benchmark portfolio.
“We were one of the pioneers in investment in green bonds,” said Ajit Singh, chief risk officer for the Investment Management Division.
Green bonds facilitate investments with environmental benefits such as renewable energy, sustainable energy, sustainable waste management, biodiversity conservation and clean transportation.
The fund plans to invest $150 million in a reduced carbon index.
Already, the countries of Bhutan, Costa Rica, Maldives, Monaco, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Sweden and Switzerland have committed themselves to becoming climate-neutral.
So too have the cities of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Seattle and Oslo.
The practice is finding favor among the private sector, too, with Google, HSBC Bank, Microsoft, Tesco, Apple, Dell, Ikea, ING, Munich Re, Swiss Re and Yahoo! on board.
The UN initiative urges businesses, individuals, non-governmental organizations, governments, cities and event planners to measure their climate footprint; reduce it where possible; and offset remaining emissions with UN CERs.
In the UN’s 38-story Secretariat Building overlooking the East River, the blinds are adjusted automatically to limit heating and cooling needs. Four years ago, the building’s original single-pane glass panels were replaced with state-of-the-art double-glazed panels, helping slash heating and cooling costs. Lights in the building go off automatically when they sense no motion in the room.
“Climate neutrality is not about zero emissions,” the UN says on its website. It is about reducing current emissions to the point where we reach the ultimate balance between emissions and the absorptive capacity of the Earth.”