Nearly 2,000 UN employees have called on the global organization to reduce its carbon footprint, including limiting its diplomatic benefits, such as business class flights and travel documents, a letter showed.
The United Nations sees climate change as “the defining issue of our time” and will hold a summit in New York next week. In their letter to the Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, the reformers say that radical changes are needed to get things in order.
“Our commitments need to be more ambitious and at least as concrete as those of the UN Member States and non-party stakeholders attending the UN Climate Action Summit,” said the letter, signed by at least 1,950 employees. It was organized by a group called Young UN, an internal network committed to ensuring the organization embodies the principles it stands for.
“As Greta Thunberg just sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and young people across the world continue to strike every Friday, let us look at our own impact and take bold steps to address the climate emergency,” the letter said, referring to the Swedish teenager who has inspired global climate strikes.
The UN has emitted 2 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent in 2018, according to its own data, which includes both the 44,000 secretariat staff in more than 60 countries, as well as tens of thousands of interns, subcontractors, and peacekeepers deployed around the world.
That equates to a carbon footprint larger than several of its member states, including Malta and Liberia, according to statistics from the Global Carbon Atlas for 2017.
Among 10 issues identified by Young UN are travel allowances, which the letter said needed to be cut or scrapped “in order to disincentivize travel by UN employees and UN meeting participants motivated by financial gain”.
The letter also suggested that staff should be rewarded for downgrading from business class, where a spacious seat generates several times the emissions of an economy class ticket.
Other reforms recommended in the letter include a complete divestment of the more than $60 billion U.N. pension fund from fossil fuels and creating offices run entirely on renewable energy. Young UN did not respond to requests for comment.
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