If the UN won’t Offset, Who Will?

Offsetting is not everyone’s preferred form of environmental action.   But when you run the biggest mechanism for generating offsets on the planet, you think you might have bought in.4a80c1eb88e2b_carbon_offset_footprint.360x256

Not so.

The UN operates (through the UNFCCC) the largest and most successful offsetting mechanism known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).  It allows developed world emitters to invest in developing world clean technology projects.

This has two positives – reducing the overall climate impact of development (projects have realised a 1bn tonne reduction of CO2 as a result), and ensuring investment in the developing world’s emerging clean tech sector ($215bn has flowed to the developing world since it started).

The investment yields credits that can be used by the developed world emitters (principally in Europe) to offset their liability for emissions under emissions trading schemes (ETS).  CDM plus ETS makes the world’s biggest offset mechanism.

The UN also produces an annual report on how it is becoming ‘climate neutral’, along with other laudable sustainability goals.  You can find out more about the UN’s environmental activities at all singing all dancing dedicated website:  www.greeningtheblue.org 12-04-2012banclimate

So they have a fancy sustainability strategy.  Surely that would take into account that the UN will always have some emissions, and therefore using CDM credits to offset those emissions should be a no-brainer.  Elementary you might say.  Para 1.1 of the sustainability strategy, right?


Despite running the biggest offset mechanism in the world, the UN does not offset its emissions!

That needs to change.  So when you have got over the shock of this revelation, please sign the petition that is pushing Ban Ki-Moon to set an example and pledge the UN to offset all its emissions:  http://www.change.org/petitions/ban-ki-moon-reduce-and-compensate-all-the-un-s-greenhouse-gas-emissions

So far the UN’s response to the petition has been derisory:

“Most agencies see the costs related to offsetting (even if relatively small) as competing with their core mandates so are not at the moment able to offset. In several cases such expenses have to be agreed by member states (especially for large agencies such as the UN).”

There is ample money for glossy reports, seminars and websites to highlight the UN’s commitment to sustainability, but when it comes to action…..it’s not in the budget.

Not only does the UN’s failure to adopt offsetting undermine the credibility of the UN in the context of climate change, it undermines the concept of offsetting generally and prevents the flow of additional investment into the developing world.

Perhaps most fundamentally, it sends a message: if the UN won’t buy into the idea of offsetting emissions when they run the offsetting system, who will?

Please support this petition, started by the Project Developers’ Forum, to help force the UN to change its stance and divert the greenwash to real action to support clean tech in the developing world. petition2

2 Comments on “If the UN won’t Offset, Who Will?

  1. CDM audit system needs a major reform for attracting buyers and developers.
    The audit process is simply too long.
    UNFCCC should let go of all audit functions to the DOE. It should operate only as a forum to formulate policies and methodologies. DOE must also complete verifications within 12 weeks of site visits. CDM could have attracted more private sector participation in Emission Reduction projects but the long and difficult registration process deter sensible companies. UNFCCC EB should benchmark its process and performance with International Standards Organizations who can give result of audit on the same day, or American Society of Mechanical Engineers who decided during the three day audit on site. We are into third year since we published the Monitoring Report in 2010 February.

    • HI Joseph, yes I agree CDM needs major reform. There were some excellent proposals put forward by the CDM Policy Dialogue last year. Sadly despite plenty of words of support the COP decided to do very little about implementing them. Very frustrating. Specifically on timing, there are major complaints about length of registration process and the uncertainties involved. There were never enough DOEs approved to create genuine competition on prices/service levels. The verification process needs to be rigorous but it should not take more than 12 weeks. Standardised baselines would help give certainty and speed things up.

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