The United Nations Secretary-General’s directive for UN agencies to "move toward climate neutrality" was first announced on World Environment Day 2007. Since then, the UN system has been measuring its greenhouse gas emissions and identifying opportunities to reduce them.
UNEP recently asked UNOPS, an operational and central procurement arm of the UN, to buy 50,000 certified emission reduction (CER) units, to cover UNEP’s emissions for 2010-2013.
CERs are a type of carbon credit issued by the internationally-recognized Clean Development Mechanism, under the Kyoto Protocol. Carbon credits are tradable certificates that represent the reduction of one tonne of carbon dioxide or the equivalent measurement of another greenhouse gas. Organizations can 'offset' or neutralize their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing these credits, which directly support emission reduction projects in developing countries.
As part of its own emission-reduction plan, UNOPS decided to purchase additional offsets and added almost 14,000 certificates to the order, one for every tonne of greenhouse gases emitted by its global activities in 2011.
Combining the procurement volumes allowed the two organizations to buy the certificates from Swiss company First Climate at a reduced price. As a result, the emissions from both organizations were offset in a landfill gas management project in Colombia, while UNEP also contributed to the installation of a 15 megawatt wind farm in Tamil Nadu, India.
"It is important for UN agencies to practice what they preach, both internally and in our programmes," said Shoa Ehsani, Climate Neutral Officer at UNEP. "Apart from setting an example for others, we want to support the Kyoto Protocol and contribute to global efforts to mitigate climate change."
UNOPS is currently calculating its 2012 emissions before buying the next round of certificates.
UNEP, which has been climate neutral since 2008, and UNOPS are two of only a small number of UN bodies to offset their global climate footprint.
"This historic purchase means that UNOPS is now completely climate neutral for 2011," said Therese Ballard, Director of UNOPS Sustainable Procurement Practice Group. "While UNOPS is also looking at ways to further reduce the volume of emissions that come from its daily operations, this move to offset its 2011 greenhouse gases will greatly benefit communities in Colombia for years to come and helps us continue to drive forward the sustainability agenda."
The project in Colombia includes the installation of a controlled methane capture and flaring system at the Curva de Rodas and the La Pradera landfills to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The additional sustainable development benefits will include improved sanitary conditions and quality of life in surrounding communities, as well as a decrease in the risk of landslides.
Jobs will also be created through the use of local suppliers and contractors, while a share of the certificate proceeds will be funnelled into research at the University of Antioquia. Benefits of the wind generation scheme in India include the creation of jobs, improvements to the surrounding road network, increased availability of electricity, and a reduction in waste production.
The offset scheme is approved by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and contributes to the work undertaken by the Sustainable United Nations facility that coordinates environmental sustainability efforts for 54 UN bodies.
The joint procurement exercise reflects a growing partnership between UNEP and UNOPS, particularly in the area of sustainable procurement in the UN. The two bodies recently signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen their collaboration.
UNOPS and UNEP have developed guides and conducted training programmes on sustainable procurement, alongside the International Labour Organization (ILO), the ILO’s International Training Centre and other partners. Key outputs have been the
Buying for a Better World sustainable procurement guide and several product-specific guidelines. The guide has now been turned into a free online training course on sustainable procurement.