The climate costs of the United Nations

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To address the growing challenge of climate change and the urgency to take concrete action at all levels, the UN Secretary-General has urged UN agencies to respond collectively and lead by example in greening the UN and becoming climate neutral. He has tasked a body called the UN Environmental Management Group (EMG) to coordinate a collective UN system-wide effort to move the UN's operations towards climate neutrality.

In October 2007 with the support of the EMG, the UN Secretary-General and the Heads of UN agencies agreed on a strategy to move their respective organizations towards climate neutrality. They made a commitment to estimate their GHG emissions in conformity with international standards

THE CLIMATE NEUTRAL NETWORK

Launched in February 2008, the CN Net began with four national governments - Costa Rica, Iceland, Norway and New Zealand - and several cities and corporations, all committed to working towards climate neutrality, as founder members. CN Net is an information exchange platform not only for existing members but for all nations, local governments and businesses which seek to cut their net GHG emissions to zero.

The founder states acknowledge that there are real problems on the road to climate-neutral economies. Norway's main challenge, for example, is limiting fossil fuel emissions. The world's third largest exporter of oil aims to become climate-neutral by 2030, with global carbon offsets accounting for part of the target, and carbon sequestration (see page 88) - a method of trapping emitted gases and storing them underground or beneath the sea - helping to reduce its domestic emissions. Norway also plans to expand public transport and reduce taxes for new, fuel-efficient cars.

In New Zealand agriculture accounts for half of all greenhouse gases, with the country's tens of millions of farm animals producing large quantities of methane. The country plans to raise its already high use of renewable resources for electricity generation (predominantly hydropower at present) to 90 per cent by the end of 2009, undertake efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible, and to analyse the cost implications and explore the budgetary modalities of purchasing carbon offsets to ultimately achieve climate neutrality.

Over the coming months and years, the EMG will be supporting these efforts in close cooperation with the UNEP's Paris-based Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, which leads a facility called the Sustainable United Nations (SUN). Together they will provide assistance to the UN agencies to calculate their GHG emissions according to the highest environmental standards, develop individual agency's plans for reducing their footprint, adopt a common approach for purchasing offsets, and also advance other aspects related to greening the UN, such sustainable procurement.

by 2025 and to halve per capita transport emissions by 2040 by using electric cars and biofuels. Iceland aims to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions - which come mainly from transport and industry - by 75 per cent before 2050. Carbon sequestration in vegetation is an important factor in Iceland's climate strategy. It has suffered the worst soil erosion of any European country since its settlement 1 100 years ago, with deforestation leaving the fragile volcanic soil at the mercy of wind and water erosion. Costa Rica is aiming for climate neutrality by 2021, to be achieved by taxes and incentives to protect forests and encourage carbon storage and sequestration.

The four cities signed up to CN Net are Arendal in Norway, Vancouver on the west coast of Canada, Vaxjo in southern Sweden and Rizhao in northern China. Ninety-nine per cent of urban households in Rizhao, Shandong province, have solar water heaters. The amount of energy used for each unit of economic output has fallen by almost a third on 2000 levels and CO2 emissions by almost half.

The latest wave of participants extends the initiative's reach to small and medium enterprises, as well as international, non-governmental and research organizations. www.climateneutral.unep.org.

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