UN System works together to reduce environmental footprint

Aerial view of a lush green forest.
Photo: Unsplash/John O'Nolan/10 Dec 2020

When it comes to the environment, the United Nations and its affiliates are walking the talk, according to a new report.

In 2019, the nearly 60 bodies that comprise the United Nations System offset 97 per cent of the greenhouse gases they generated, according to the Greening the Blue report 2020The report also found that while on the job, the UN’s 310,000 employees emitted 6.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) per capita last year, down 22 per cent from 2010.

The emergence of COVID-19 is a stark reminder of how we are all a part of nature and the environment,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “Just as humanity does not exist in isolation, neither does the United Nations System. We are all part of the global climate crisis and our efforts to achieve environmental sustainability are essential to tackling it.”

The Greening the Blue report, which was released 10 December, found the United Nations System generated around 2 million tonnes of CO2eq last year. (CO2eq includes carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases). Forty-five per cent of all emissions came from staff air travel. Another 12 per cent came from other forms of transport and 43 per cent were generated by UN offices, largely through heating, air conditioning and electricity use.

Just as humanity does not exist in isolation, neither does the United Nations System. — UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Case studies in the report highlighted how UN entities are working together and finding new ways to fund projects that reduce the UN System’s environmental footprint.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Development Programme, for example, joined forces to build a solar energy system at the FAO regional office in Ghana. The system will cover up to 40 per cent of the office’s energy requirements while saving USD$20,000 in electricity costs per year.

Caption: Solar panels line the roof of the Food and Agricultural Organization’s office in Ghana.

Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, in Uruguay, UNICEF overhauled its offices, renewing an old air conditioning system and installing energy-efficient LED lights. The work was financed by UNICEF’s 3 per cent air travel surcharge, which helps finance small-scale projects that reduce the agency’s impact on the planet.

UN entities have also partnered with local organizations to reduce their environmental footprint.

In Kenya, the World Food Programme has so far sold 1 million surplus polypropylene food bags to a Nairobi-based recycler. The company has turned the satchels into new unbranded bags that contain 50 per cent recycled material.

Caption: In Kenya, the World Food Programme has repurposed more than 1 million food bags.

Photo: WFP

The United Nations’ Africa headquarters in Nairobi, which is home to more than 50 agencies, is also partnering with Kenya’s Friends of Karura Forest to protect wildlife. The UN compound sits on 140 acres of land near the Karura Forest and is a refuge for 200 species of plants and animals, including hawks, civets and monkeys.

“The United Nations is the driving force behind some of the planet’s most important environmental accords and, through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is working with partners to combat climate change, counter pollution and halt biodiversity loss,” said Steven Stone, Chief of UNEP’s Resources and Markets branch, which hosted the report.

“With the Greening the Blue report we want to show we are able to lead on the change we are asking the world to embrace.”


Produced by UNEP. Article originally published to UNEP's website. For more information, visit or contact Keishamaza Rukikaire ( and Steven Stone (

UN entities involved in this initiative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
United Nations Environment Programme
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Children’s Fund
World Food Programme

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