Cablegate: Unctad Tiptoes Towards Smaller Carbon Footprint

DE RUEHGV #0986/01 3250704
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1. SUMMARY: The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
(UNCTAD) has answered the call for a carbon-neutral UN by setting
for itself a carbon emissions reduction target of 20 percent by
2020. A Swiss firm, the Gaia Group, conducted a carbon emissions
inventory for UNCTAD, and is advising UNCTAD on options to reduce
its emissions. END SUMMARY

UNCTAD's Carbon Emissions Inventory

2. On November 9, Mission ECON and EST officers met with Lucas
Assuncao of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
(UNCTAD) and Pasi Rinne of Gaia Group to discuss UNCTAD's efforts to
reduce its carbon footprint. According to Assuncao and Rinne,
UNCTAD is ahead of other UN organizations in responding to UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon4s call for a carbon-neutral UN. Using
extra-budgetary funds, UNCTAD engaged Gaia, a Swiss-based energy
auditing firm, to conduct an emissions inventory. The bulk of
UNCTAD's carbon emissions come from business related travel
initiated by UNCTAD in Geneva, including travel of guest speakers to
UNCTAD events worldwide that is paid for by UNCTAD; not included are
expenses of guest experts and delegates that attend UNCTAD meetings
at their own expense, and UNCTAD staff commuting. Of the 3,096.89
tons/CO2 emitted by UNCTAD a year, 2,819.09 tons/CO2 or 91.03
percent is from business related travel; the next highest category
is heating at 8.21 percent. Of the business related travel
emissions, 86 percent is attributed to long-haul travel of 1600 km
and over, and 11 percent is attributed to medium haul travel of
500-1600 km.

3. According to UN employee regulations, business class air travel
is authorized for flights of nine hours or more. Business class
travel emits 2.2 times the amount of carbon per capita as coach
travel. Although a reduction in business class travel would result
in a large reduction in carbon emissions, Assuncao stated that
business class travel is a benefit fiercely safeguarded by the UN
labor union.

Mitigating UNCTAD's Carbon Emissions

4. Given that UNCTAD is not addressing the issue of business class
travel, Assuncao is focusing mitigation efforts on replacing travel
with direct video conferencing; on energy efficiency within the
offices; and on developing an incentive program to encourage
low-emissions practices among employees. UNCTAD is not buying any

5. Assuncao reported that the use of direct video conferencing (DVC)
has dramatically increased in the last year, from one or two DVC
meetings per month in 2007 to 18 in October 2008 alone. UNCTAD is
therefore soliciting donors to fund equipment to expand its DVC
capability. Assuncao conceded that while DVC is a great tool for
increased communication, he did not expect DVCs to replace the bulk
of UNCTAD's travel. Costs for additional video-conference rooms are
projected to be USD 20,000 per additional room, with fixed
maintenance costs of USD 40,000 a year, regardless of the number of
DVC rooms. Maintenance of the video-conferencing room is provided
by the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).

6. UNCTAD leases space from UNOG, and it is working with UNOG
management to install motion detectors and other energy saving
devices. Finally, UNCTAD is working with an employee group to
encourage energy saving practices, such as turning off computers and
printers and using video conferences. Assuncao does not have
funding to put in place an incentive program to encourage employees
to make low-emission choices, but he is raising awareness through
dissemination of the emissions inventory and suggestions on carbon
savings that everyone can act on.

7. Mission officers suggested that the inventory data summary sheet
would be more transparent and useful if the travel figure were
broken down to show the percentage of emissions for business class
travel versus coach class travel, and to add the statistic that
"business class travel emits 2.2 times the amount of carbon per
capita as coach travel." Such transparent and powerful information
might cause some environmentally-minded UNCTAD staff to opt for
coach travel even when they are entitled to business class travel.

Going Forward with UNCTAD Climate Neutrality

8. The carbon emission inventory is a high priority for UNCTAD, but
without regular budgetary funding, UNCTAD must rely upon
unpredictable voluntary funding to keep the inventory updated and to
invest in carbon emissions reduction measures. UNCTAD is asking

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other Geneva based Missions for contributions and support for this
climate neutral initiative. Assuncao estimated that UNCTAD needs
USD 130,000 to USD 140,000 per year for three years to fund all its
desired investments in new DVC rooms, energy efficient heating and
lighting systems, and staff awareness campaigns, and to keep the
carbon data current. After the initial three years of investment,
Assuncao estimated that costs for UNCTAD to maintain is carbon
reduction measures and updated inventory would fall to USD 10,000 to
20,000 per year.

9. UNCTAD could cut both costs and carbon emissions by reducing
travel, especially business class, but a UN-wide mandate may be
needed. An incentive program could be one approach to get staff to
voluntarily give up business class travel. For example, employees
who opted for coach class could be given an extra day of annual
leave and the financial savings achieved from purchase of the less
expense coach class air ticket could be invested in projects that
would offset the carbon emissions generated from the coach class air

10. UNCTAD has other options to reduce its carbon emissions as
well. After the meeting, we learned that UNCTAD has been successful
in reducing its biennial number of publications from 225 to 205.
Given that each publication requires numerous consultations -
necessitating travel - the good news is that this reduction should
also have a positive impact on UNCTAD's carbon mitigation program.
Additionally, at a November 10 meeting of UNCTAD's working party on
UNCTAD's strategic framework and budget, both developing and
developed countries demanded that UNCTAD dramatically reduce its
number of printed publications and instead rely to the maximum
extent possible on electronic dissemination. This decision will
also have a positive impact on carbon emissions since UNCTAD's heavy
tomes were typically distributed by airmail. Now UNCTAD needs to
quantify the carbon reduction impact of these reforms and capture
the data in its inventory so that UNCTAD can safeguard the carbon


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