UN offsets climate summit's carbon footprint

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UNITED NATIONS — Striving to underscore the importance of efforts to reduce global emissions, a team of U.N. officials figured out the amount of carbon dioxide generated by a daylong climate conference – about 450 tons – and purchased offsets to neutralize its carbon footprint.

The summit on Tuesday drew more than 50 presidents, 35 prime ministers and many environment ministers.

The largest single factor in the calculation was the amount of emissions generated by air travel for all the delegations, said Janos Pasztor, director of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's climate change support team. By contrast, other elements accounted for a fraction of the overall air miles total.

"We calculated in advance the amount of emissions the summit would cause, based on the number of heads of state traveling to New York, emissions from their motorcades, police escorts and other elements," Pasztor said.

The offset was achieved by directing funding to a power project in rural India that converts cast off agricultural products such as corn husks and stalks into electricity, Pasztor said. The plant in rural Andhra Pradeshis significantly contributes to reducing carbon emissions in India, one of the world's largest emitters of dangerous greenhouse gases.

The initiative to achieve a carbon-neutral summit is part of a wider move by Ban Ki-moon two years ago to turn the entire U.N. system toward carbon neutrality.

All U.N. agencies have initiated activities to determine and limit their negative impact on the environment. Although the world body as a whole has a long way to go to become carbon-neutral, it is looking into buying offsets such as the one in Andra Pradesh to counter its emissions.

Ban opened the gathering on Tuesday with an appeal to leaders to set aside national interests and think about the future of the planet – and included a rebuke for their foot-dragging thus far.

The U.N. conference and the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh this week are believed to be an attempt to pressure wealthier nations into adopting a global climate treaty during a pivotal conference in December in Copenhagen, Denmark. The treaty would also tie in financing for poorer nations to burn less coal and preserve their forests.