Greener International Organizations?

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Over the past two decades, increasing attention has been trained on the environmental footprint of public actors and enterprises. International organizations (IOs) have not escaped this scrutiny. On June 15, 2007, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly called upon organizations under the aegis of the United Nations to “go green.” The UN Climate Neutral Strategy was accepted in October 2007. Following this decision, the program titled Greening the Blue was launched, with the aim of fulfilling three commitments: measuring, reducing, and offsetting. Agency chiefs made a commitment to add data on waste management from 2016, on the use of drinking water resources from 2018, and on staff training in 2019. Although the process is not mandatory, since 2009 the UN has presented an annual assessment: 67 entities have taken part in calculating their carbon emissions for the 2017, and 56 have provided data on waste management.

The studies conducted on the greening of IOs such as the WTO, the World Bank, and the UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) have often shown evidence of mainly symbolic gestures – greenwashing. Yet, the environmental damage caused by the action of IOs can have dramatic consequences. For example, the impact linked to the presence of refugee camps supervised by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees means that refugees’ prospects for protection are prejudiced, because it causes (or serves as a justification for) host governments to refuse the right to asylum. The cas of peacekeeping operations is also significant. Nine months after the Haiti earthquake of January 12, 2010, the poor management of waste water in a camp used by Blue Helmets as part of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti triggered a cholera epidemic which led to the deaths of more than 9,000 people and affected almost 780,000 others. It took over five years for the UN to accept responsibility.

Environmental footprint of actions carried out by the United Nations system, 2016 

Comment: Peace missions carry a substantial ecological footprint, accounting for more than half the UN’s greenhouse gas emissions (together with a higher-than-average production of waste). Other programs, even important ones, produce only a few percentages of emissions each. But when calculated per person, these emissions can vary up to threefold (very high at the World Bank and the IAEA). Estimated in this way, the total of these UN emissions are equivalent to those of Laos or Iceland.

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" Greener International Organizations? " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:

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