Published: 20 Nov 2020

Since the founding of the Red Cross in 1863, Geneva has evolved considerably as one of the foremost centers of global governance. Today, Geneva is home to the world’s highest concentration of international organizations and diplomatic missions which, along with the hundreds of non-governmental organizations headquartered in the region, form an exceptional density of global actors known as International Geneva. With the support of the host country and local authorities, various actions are being taken to reduce the ecological footprint of these institutions.

The host country, Switzerland, the host city and canton of Geneva, the United Nations Environment Programme and the Geneva Environment Network stand ready to assist efforts of institutions to reduce the ecological footprint of their activities in Geneva.

Greening the UN System: Sustainable United Nations

The UN’s journey towards climate neutrality began on 5 June 2007 when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly called on all UN agencies, funds and programmes to ‘go green’ and become climate neutral.

In October 2007, the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) approved the United Nations Climate Neutral Strategy that committed the UN system to measure, reduce and offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from facilities, operations and travel.

In 2015, UN organizations committed to becoming climate neutral by 2020, using the UN Roadmap towards Climate Neutrality by 2020, and in 2019, the CEB endorsed the Strategy for Sustainability Management in the United Nations System (2020–2030) to intensify efforts to combat climate change through internal sustainability strategies.

Coordinating the “going green” work across the UN System is the responsibility of the Sustainable United Nations (SUN) facility, based in Geneva.

Various UN institutions have their headquarters in Geneva. Their environmental profile is available on the Greening the Blue website.

2050Today Initiative on Climate Action

The Permanent Mission of Switzerland launched the 2050Today climate action initiative aiming at reducing CO2 emissions at the local level in Geneva, developed in cooperation with local authorities (Canton and City of Geneva, University of Geneva). As part of 2050Today, member institutions are to implement concrete measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and measure their results. To multiply the impact of the common efforts, the 2050Today community provides a platform for sharing experiences, solutions and practices.

2050Today has three main goals :

  • Foster CO2 emissions reduction : Measuring on regular basis the carbon footprint will greatly promote a rapid, continuous and measurable reduction of GHG emissions of the participating institutions as it will provide clarity for action.
  • Enhance Cooperation : Sharing experiences, solutions and practices will foster and facilitate the implementation of efficient measures with a sense of solidarity and cooperation.
  • Raise awareness : Leading by example will raise awareness among the personnel of the participating institutions and foster inclusive climate action within international Geneva.

Geneva, as the European headquarters of the United Nations, the headquarters of the IPCC, the headquarters of the World Meteorological Organization and the main centre for the implementation of sustainable development objectives, can be the symbol of concrete, measurable and visible action to reduce emissions. This proposal for action is addressed to all the institutions that make up the ecosystem of International Geneva (Permanent Missions, international organizations and NGOs).

2050Today initial entities – Permanent Missions of Denmark, Fiji, France, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Slovenia, Switzerland, UNOG and UNEP-Europe – presented their 2019 carbon footprint on 27 October 2020, and invited all institutions of International Geneva to join the initiative. The IPCC secretariat and local authorities support this initiative.

The estimation of the carbon footprint of the ten initial entities has been estimated to 10,000 tons of CO2-equivalent for the year 2019, representing 1.7 tons of CO2-equivalent per employee. The three main sources of greenhouse gas emissions by these entities are: energy (more than half of the emissions), mobility and food. The initiative has already advanced some solutions. For example, on energy, as heating is the mean source of emissions, building insulation and changing of heating systems will be studied. On mobility, the increase of green mobility in International Geneva and for commuting journeys, the promotion of hybrid conferences, partial home office, and the decrease of the number of air travel journeys could contribute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On food, a green food policy could be implemented with local, seasonal and vegetarian first meals.

In addition to this launch event, an information and exchange workshop will be held on 3 November 2020. It will enable all entities interested in joining 2050Today to receive any additional information they may require. Separate information on this workshop will follow.

New entities that are interested in the project should enter in contact with the Permanent Mission of Switzerland. The Footprint of international Geneva is planned to be released in January 2021.

In the framework of 2050Today, five working groups will exchange together. Two working groups on mobility and energy hosted by the Permanent Mission of Switzerland already exist.

The working group on the international organizations mobility planning, convened by the Permanent Mission of Switzerland, is a platform of exchange and collaboration between the Swiss authorities and the major international organizations, aiming to improve the mobility in International Geneva, notably, by promoting public transport infrastructures and soft mobility, by supporting the exchange of information on major projects and by developing synergies between the different actors.

Launch of the 2050Today Initiative

Sustainable Cooling System for International Organizations

Various international organizations buildings are connected to the Geneva-Lac-Nations’ (GLN) remote cooling network. Launched in 2009, this network allows their premises to be cooled and heated with deep water from Lake Geneva. UNOG, ILO, ICRC, WTO and WIPO are connected to this network. From 2022, the GeniLac © project will strengthen the GLN network and will cool and heat a larger number of buildings, from the city center to the airport area.

Greening CERN

In September 2020, CERN – the European Council for Nuclear Research – released its first Environment Report, where it stresses its engagement towards sustainable research through different actions:

  • Energy: 95% of CERN’s energy consumption comes from electricity which is mainly used for its particle accelerators. The CERN engaged to limit its electricity consumption growth to 5% by the end of 2024, to increase energy efficiency and to develop energy recover. On this last point, in 2018, the CERN identified that the heat recovered from CERN’s accelerator cooling systems could be used to heat a new residential area in the town of Ferney-Voltaire, benefiting up to 8000 people. Studies are under way for a similar project to heat offices on CERN’s Meyrin site.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions: CERN computed its emissions for 2017 and 2018. It’s main source of emissions comes from its experiments as they use various fluorinated gazes. Its indirect emissions come from its electricity consumption and its data-center. CERN has a for objective to reduce its direct emissions by 28% by the end of 2024. In order to do so, it will replace fluorinated gazes in detector cooling systems with CO2, as CO2 has a smaller impact on global warming compared to fluorinated gazes. Another part of its greenhouse gas emissions comes from the mobility of its community. CERN’s goal on mobility is to keep individual motorized vehicle commuting constant until 2025, despite a growing scientific community.
  • Waste: CERN produces nonhazardous waste – industrial waste, electrical and
    electronic equipment, aluminium, glass and PET, paper and cardboard, biodegradable waste, coffee capsules and household waste. In 2018, the CERN recycled 56% of its nonhazardous waste. CERN is also creating hazardous and radioactive waste (handle by tripartite agreement between CERN, France and Switzerland on radiation protection and radiation safety). CERN implements waste reduction projects, awareness campaigns and has for main objective to increase its recycling rate. CERN minimizes the generation of radioactive waste by avoiding, recycling and reusing activated material.
  • Water: The cooling systems of CERN’s accelerators are using water. The organization has a long-term programme to reduce the concentration of chemicals in clean water releases, and commits to keeping the increase in water consumption below 5% up to the end of 2024. The water used comes mainly from the Lake of Geneva. CERN decreased its water consumption from 15,000 ML in 2000, to 3,477 ML in 2018, principally by changing its cooling tower water circuits. CERN has committed to the regional plan for the evacuation of water (Plan Régional d’Evacuation des Eaux, PREE) for the effluent the Nant d’Avril developed by the Canton of Geneva. In this framework, it has to recycle cooling tower water to reduce and improve the quality of water released, and to prevent accidental release of pollutants.
  • Biodiversity: Besides its research sites, CERN possesses 258 hectares of cultivated fields and meadows, 136 hectares of woodland and 3 wetlands. Since 2009, CERN has held the Swiss Nature & Economie Foundation’s label of quality in recognition of its efforts to protect biodiversity. The CERN is using a low-intensity maintenance to protect landscapes and biodiversity. It is home to 15 species of orchids: 10 are on the Swiss national conservation list and one on the IUCN Red List.
  • Environmental compliance: CERN has never recorded environmental accident related to radioactivity. However, water pollution events have occurred but the organization has improved prevention, early detection and intervention. The network of environmental monitoring instruments has doubled since 2011. CERN follows the precaution principle of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.
  • Technology: CERN creates knowledge and technology that could be used to protect the environment. For example, CERN is working on a project to decrease air pollution from maritime traffic using particle accelerators, and on another project to improve water and pesticides management with fibre optic sensor.

CERN is also taking into account the impact of radiation and noise on people living close to its experiment sites.

Greening the Palais des Nations

Various actions in different sectors have been implemented at the Palais des Nations, such as:

  • Energy: In 2014, solar panels have been installed on the roof.
  • Heating: In 2008, the Palais des Nations has changed its heating system from fuel to natural gas, which produces less pollutants and carbon emissions. Moreover, new windows have been installed in 2014.
  • Cooling: The Palais beneficiates of a climate-neutral cooling system from the Genève-Lac-Nations project.
  • Mobility: Additional parking for bicycles and charging stations for electric cars have been installed.
  • Environmental Management System (EMS): An EMS has been adopted, leading to a commitment on environmental protection and improved environmental performance.
  • Climate-neutrality: The measurement of greenhouse gas emissions is realized each year in order to identify their sources and to find solutions to reduce them. Unavoidable emissions are compensated by purchasing Certified Emission Reductions.
  • Water consumption: The Palais des Nations has decreased its water consumption by changing toilet flushes, putting sensor-activated taps and setting up an automatic system for the irrigation of the Ariana Park.
  • Food system: The Palais des Nations has a goal of zero food waste and zero single-use plastics. Each month the production that has not been consumed is given to the food bank Partage. Concerning plastics, a replacement of plastic take-away containers by biodegradable ones and of plastics straws by biodegradable recycled paper straws have been implemented.
  • Zero-waste: Waste sorting bins for recycling have been installed and in 2019, an EcoCorner has been created to collect batteries and plastic caps, among other things.

Greening ILO

When ILO was established in 1919, neither climate change nor environmental sustainability posed a threat to social justice. However, accelerating developments over the last decades have led ILO constituents worldwide to the strong conviction that the Organization can only pursue its mandate for social justice effectively if it integrates environmental sustainability into the Decent Work Agenda.

The report “ILO Environmental Sustainability Action Plans for 2018–21“,  highlights ILO ambition, commitment, and far-reaching achievements across the Office in integrating environmental sustainability in ILO policy outcomes, Decent Work Country Programmes, and development cooperation projects, as well as the organization results in greening its operations.

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