UN agencies fail to practice what they preach

Back in the halcyon days of 1989, when “political correctness” was making its initial forays into our consciousness – and long before the purported perils of dreaded CO2 emissions had permeated and polluted political discourse – I became acquainted with the concept of “sustainability”.

It seemed like a very good idea at the time: I learned about it as an invited participant at the “founding assembly” of the Jewish Association for Development (JAD Canada). We were all fired up with the concept and with the idea of “thinking globally, acting locally” – which in those days translated into, “OK, we want to help developing nations, and we will focus on local initiatives (i.e. raise funds) to support projects which will help those in developing nations help themselves in a sustainable manner”. At least that was my interpretation, as I recall.

We all returned to our respective communities (including me, to my – then – recently adopted home of Vancouver), eager to carry out our mission. But within a rather short period of time, for a variety of reasons, the Vancouver branch petered out. Best laid plans of mice and men, and all that! Not sure what happened in other communities – or with the national organization – but they, too, may have met their demise, as I can find no indication of their virtual presence on the current Canadian scene.

The concept of “sustainability”, however, appears to have been, well, more sustainable! One might say that it has grown in parallel popularity with political correctness.

All of which brings me to one of the “sustainability” concept’s prime movers, shakers, proponents, advocates … (you name it, they’ve done it, well, everything except practice it): the alphabet soup otherwise known as the United Nations – and its multitude of Acronymic Offspring, not the least of which is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, aka the IPCC, thanks to which the world now has a rather mediocre climate bible. And without which, according to IPCC Chair, Rajendra Pachauri, “no one would be worried about climate change.”

Sustainability is now inextricably intertwined with “climate change”. The IPCC’s 2007 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers – which reduces the 3,000+ pages of the three Working Groups’ reports to a mere (albeit probably more digestible) 22 pages – contains no less than 7 instances of “sustainable/sustainability” (which is one more than there are of “environment/environmental” and 2 more than there are of “carbon dioxide”) The good news about this Synthesis Report is that there is no mention of the subsequently increasingly popular buzzphrases “environmental justice” and “social justice”, But I digress …

A few days ago, my fellow Citizen Auditor, Dr. Tim Hulsey, tipped me off to an astonishing article on FoxNews.com. This is an article written by George Russell, the Executive Editor of Fox News. Some highlights:

U.N.’s Environmental Housekeeping in Chaos, Internal Report Shows

The U.N. is telling countries how to save the planet, but its own environmental housekeeping is a ‘scattered’ mess, according to a report by a special group of internal investigators.

When it comes to telling the rest of the world how it must behave in order to save the planet from environmental calamity, and lobbying for trillion-dollar solutions to those problems, no organization in the world makes greater claims to being the leading authority — and global arbiter — than the United Nations.

Except, it seems, when it comes to its own behavior as an environmentally friendly global citizen. There the U.N. system is, according to members of a special group of internal U.N. inspectors, in chaos.

Among other things, the group, known as the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), found:

• U.N. efforts at setting internal guidelines on environmental housekeeping and management across its sprawling network of global organizations are “uncoordinated ad hoc efforts” that “continue to be scattered.”

• Most of the environmental measures implemented by the central organs of its many funds and programs, not to mention the central U.N. secretariat, “are not based on any specific guidance and are not documented in a clear and transparent way.”


• When it comes to the U.N.’s own contributions to solving the global greenhouse gas problem, the organization’s efforts are, according to the inspectors, not only unsystematic but sometimes indecipherable. The U.N. generates the equivalent of 1.741 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — defined by the U.N. itself as the world’s most prevalent and pernicious greenhouse gas — every year (more than such countries as Mauritius, Guyana and Laos). But it apparently doesn’t have any administrative framework to handle the purchase of carbon offsets to balance its emissions, or even a systematic way to purchase or account for them.

According to the inspectors, U.N. procurement experts tasked with handling the offset transactions were apparently ignorant of the basics of the entire carbon offset business (which has been the subject of tens of thousands of hours of U.N.-sponsored conferences over the past decade, often with the aim of putting U.N.-sponsored organizations in charge of the offset trade). The ignorance has prevailed even while two U.N. interagency groups have been working to develop system-wide guidelines on “sustainable procurement.”


The U.N., they note, has been trying to get its environmental household management together in one form or another since 2001. Yet “despite these efforts, ad hoc intergovernmental decisions and internal guidelines on environmental housekeeping and management continue to be scattered.”


But when it came right down to it, the U.N.’s big environmental problem, the inspectors felt, was a “lack of focus on in-house management issues. “The U.N. needs to set up a “system-wide governance framework” to ensure that best practices are identified, and an organized way to share experience across the chaotic system in order to practice what it preached to the rest of the world.

To win its own Good Housekeeping seal of environmental approval, the U.N. also needs, the inspectors said, to “ensure greater accountability of United Nations system entities to Member States, the public and beyond.”

The JIU’s tough report is by no means the inspectors’ only critique of the U.N.’s environmental competence. Only a year ago another JIU inspector issued an even more damning report that said the U.N.’s system of environmental management for the world at large was in the same chaotic shape as the JIU now diagnoses for its internal management.

Among other things, that report noted that the U.N.’s emphasis on “sustainable development” — merging anti-poverty programs with environmental protection — was starving actual environmental agencies of support, causing U.N. environmental mandates to proliferate without coordination, and creating a jungle of contending U.N. bureaucracies that made it impossible to even know how much the U.N. was spending to manage its environmental actions. (The “rough estimate”: $1.65 billion.)

[Russell concludes:]

With the U.N.’s external efforts at world “environmental governance” a seeming jumble, and its internal environmental management an apparent mess, the JIU’s inspectors have made a striking case over the past year that one of the major environmental problems the world faces may be — the U.N. itself. [emphases added -hro]

I must confess that I haven’t read the entire 70 page report (which FoxNews has made available here) but nothing that I’ve read so far suggests that Russell’s assessment is anything but right on the mark.

The reason I haven’t read all 70 pages, btw, is that I was diverted by the JIU report’s link to the (July 2009) 2008 Annual Statistical Report on United Nations Procurement

In this report I learned (p. 289) that the UN procured “Official Entertainment Services” from a Lebanon based organization, Quantum Trading Co – for the paltry sum of (US)$4,206,082.00 .

I can’t help wondering if these were “sustainable” Official Entertainment Services and/or how they might have contributed to the reduction of the dreaded C02 emissions.

One thought on “UN agencies fail to practice what they preach

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s