UNCTAD: Promoting Videoconferencing

Videoconferencing is becoming a key resource in the drive to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), where a climate neutral initiative has set the goal of a 20% cut in emissions by 2020, as part of its Climate Mitigation Strategy.

Air travel has been identified as the main source of emissions ever since the first UNCTAD carbon footprint inventory carried out in 2006. The detailed assessments of the organization's annual GHG emissions carried out by specialist consultants in 2007 and 2008 again showed flying as a significant share. The decision to cut down on travelling, however, required that other ways be found to communicate effectively. Increasing the use of videoconferencing seemed like a good alternative – provided it could be made more efficient and user-friendly.

This idea was welcomed when staff were consulted about it. Videoconferencing was seen as particularly well suited to follow-up communications with clients after an initial face-to-face meeting. UNCTAD already has some good equipment, which staff have been using more and more since it was first made available in 2006 – and in many cases it has already enabled them to cut down on travelling. So it was decided to extend this facility as a way of improving communication with project partners, governments and the organization’s liaison office in New York. The initiative was championed by Lucas Assunçaõ, Coordinator of UNCTAD's Climate Change and BioTrade programmes.

Use of the existing facility requires access to a multi-purpose conference room, where the equipment has to be set up every time it is needed for a videoconference, and dismantled afterwards. The upgrade, including the purchase of additional equipment and fitting out two more rooms for its use, is planned for 2010. It will also include state of the art e-communication technology, dedicated furniture, soundproofing and appropriate lighting.

Costs and benefits

The cost of purchasing additional video conferencing equipment and improving the current facilities is around USD 140,000. UNCTAD is seeking support from donors to meet the cost of the two additional facilities, and responses to date have been encouraging.

On the basis of the carbon footprint assessments conducted for the three years starting in 2006, the case for the upgrade was a compelling one for UNCTAD’s Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi to approve. The enhanced capability and availability is expected to increase the use of videoconferencing by 30% once it is operational. This could potentially result in a reduction in long-haul air travel by as much as one flight per staff member per year – delivering savings not only in emissions, but also in costs, staff time and travel- related stress.

This initiative can be seen as a showcase of UN good practice, resulting in improved communications with clients, real cost savings, and a reduced carbon footprint for UNCTAD.