Climate Action

From “doing good” to “doing the impossible”

UNGA 2019 Roundtable Minimise Carbon Footprint
From left Per Heggenes (CEO IKEA Foundation), Amina Mohamed (UN Deputy Secretary-General), Inger Andersen (Executive Director UNEP). Photo: United Nations

A roundtable discussion on How to Move Further, Faster to Minimise Carbon Footprints has sparked greater collaboration between philanthropy and UN agencies.

This week, global leaders, U.S. governors and top business executives gathered in New York during Climate Week to call for urgent climate action. On 22 September, the IKEA Foundation initiated a roundtable discussion with the heads of UN agencies and philanthropic leaders on decreasing carbon emissions at an organisational level.

“We should not only be thinking about doing good, but doing the impossible,” said Per Heggenes, IKEA Foundation CEO, who co-chaired the discussion.

Over its 10-year history, the IKEA Foundation has developed a deep and special relationship with key UN agencies. Working together as partners to improve children’s lives and futures, we have acted as a catalyst at many levels.

The IKEA Foundation’s aim is to protect the planet and to help people afford a better everyday life. Through our Climate Action portfolio, we ask other organisations, including our partners, to commit to unprecedented collaborations that influence and inspire others. We try to encourage them to increase their ambition and commitment to finding climate solutions.

Greening the blue

UN Secretary-General António Guterres convened the Climate Action Summit to accelerate climate action and ambition for a more sustainable future in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

In the UN’s 2018 Greening the Blue report, he said: “The United Nations must lead by example. I am committed to accelerating sustainability efforts and support the UN System to achieve climate neutrality by 2020. I call on UN leaders, staff and business partners to promote efficient energy use, zero waste to landfill, low-emission transportation, carbon neutral buildings and sustainable supply chains and procurement.”

While the Secretary-General’s statement is very promising, much more needs to be done to turn this into operational reality. The IKEA Foundation was keen to open a dialogue with UN agencies to see how philanthropy might be able to help.

Per Heggenes and Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), co-chaired the two-hour roundtable discussion at UN Headquarters. This brought together heads of UN agencies, funds and programmes, and leaders from the philanthropic community to discuss concrete actions the UN system can take to achieve its ambition to become carbon neutral.

Need for a mental shift

Amina Mohamed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, opened the session. “To become climate neutral, as endorsed by the Secretary-General, solutions that are being taken in the organisation need to be scaled up,” she said.

In very clear and inspirational language she stated that to become “climate smart” will lead to many challenges. “The UN is not able to overcome them alone and will need many different partners. More partnerships, such as with philanthropy, are needed to achieve that.”

Inger Andersen then presented the Greening the Blue outcomes and highlighted the fact that 50 UN entities are now carbon neutral. “UN Headquarters are doing quite well, but satellite offices are more difficult,” she said.

“There is still too much plastic. Knowledge of waste and waste management is inefficient and still the issue is not a total top priority amongst the broad spectrum of 290,000 people working at the UN. Having detailed data from Greening the Blue and making sure the entire organisation has that at its fingertips, is crucial.”

Walk the talk

Martin Frick, Director for Programmes and Policy Coordination at UN Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Athena Ronquillo-Ballesteros, Head of Climate Finance of the Growald Family Foundation, found common ground in Per’s call to “do the impossible”.

“We can only advocate for change if we walk the talk,” said Martin. “We need …young talents to work on greening. Young talents will not accept non-action.”

He added that examples of refugee camps moving to solar was a good first step, and that the way UN operates in the field does matter. “It shows locally that working in an environmentally friendly way is possible.”

Athena agreed that progress had been made. “The Greening the Blue report offers tremendous transparency. It is great that the UN family has sharpened the metrics and shows it is possible to track progress,” she said. “But this has to be taken through the entire value chain including procurement of food, vehicles and energy and applied across operations. Immediate humanitarian needs are usually taken care of. But when they [the UN] leave, integration of renewable energy in post-disaster rehabilitation and rebuilding activities are needed, like solar and storage.”

Per underlined this. “We need to take risks sometimes, but we also have a lot of technology available. It is about shifting the mindset, finding out something new that didn’t exist yet today,” he said.

Good examples and good stories

The need for good examples, transparent communication and the importance of storytelling is something all parties agreed upon in the discussion.

Liz McKeon, IKEA Foundation’s Head of Portfolio Climate Action, said: “Stories about all the progress made by UN, or all the positive initiatives that really work to reduce carbon footprints in the field, are not known by most. We have to think about how we can get stories out to make sure people stay concerned. This is where philanthropy might be able to help.”

Ute Klamert, from World Food Programme (WFP), agreed. “We need philanthropy as ambassadors for storytelling. To share success stories on a broad scale with a shared responsibility on this would be of tremendous help,” she said.

Moving faster

Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, argued that it is important to keep in mind the link between forced displacement and the climate emergency.

“The climate crisis is forcing people to move in many ways,” he said. “This forced displacement has impact on the environment. Some 71 million refugees are displaced, 90% in poor or middle-income countries. That has a big impact on environment.”

In terms of adaptation to these forces, Filippo said that access to green energy is key. “The 60,000-resident refugee camp in Jordan, powered by a solar plant, is leading by example from the IKEA Foundation. It is replicable in other areas of the world, but extra funding is needed,” he said.

“Key is believing that we can make a difference,” said Shaheen Kassim-Lakha, Director, Strategic Partnerships of the Hilton Foundation.

Per Heggenes added: “We can make the impossible possible by unprecedented collaboration. This first roundtable is an excellent start for working together. So, let’s move faster.”