United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)


HQ: Geneva, Switzerland

Focal Point: Amare Gebre Egziabher

Key figures: Greenhouse gas emissions


High Commisioner's message


“Environmental degradation and development challenges often intersect with conflict in driving new displacement and impeding solutions for those already displaced. All these elements have resulted in record numbers of refugees and internally displaced people, now exceeding 65 million worldwide and often living in prolonged exile.”

Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner, UNHCR




The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) leads and coordinates international action for the protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems worldwide. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. In its efforts to achieve this objective, the Office strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, and to return home voluntarily.

Environmental issues are closely intertwined with so much of what we do. A greater commitment to protecting the environment would enrich our operations and make us more credible to global efforts. Better environmental practices can also help to reduce UNHCR’s operating costs, enhance the protection of refugees, reduce competition for resources and improve relations with host communities.


Experience so far


Since 2009, UNHCR has been monitoring the carbon footprint of its headquarters operation (for facilities and travel). The Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) inventory report of 2009 showed that 77% of emissions were derived from travel. UNHCR has also monitored its GHG emissions for 2013 -2016. Emissions from air travel for 2015 accounted for 96% of the total, making up a much higher proportion of UNHCR’s footprint than the UN average. It also remains to be the major source of UNHCR’s emissions.


Reduction efforts


UNHCR is committed to improving its environmental performance in the following ways:

  • Renewable energy options for refugees, such as distributing solar lanterns and solar street lights, a solar farm Azraq camp, the world’s first clean energy refugee camp in Jordan and solarisation of water pumps, replacement of generators in Shimelba Ethiopia office and staff accommodation compound by solar energy unit, introduction of solar powered water filters in a number of UNHCR offices in Africa
  • A UNHCR Policy on Sustainable Procurement;
  • Exploration of hybrid energy solutions for UNHCR field offices and staff accommodation to replace diesel generators as well as vehicle management systems; and,
  • Application for accreditation to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).This funding would help UNHCR to expand its climate change adaptation and mitigation programmes initially in Rwanda, Cameroon, Tanzania and Niger operations and then will be scaled up and expanded to other operations.
  • UNHCR has also collaborated with WFP, UNICEF and OCHA in developing a multi-agency proposal for funding through the German International Climate Initiative (IKI). The €3.5 million project aims to provide adaptation, mitigation and wider environmental benefits to communities and governments in Burundi, Sudan and Chad.
  • UNHCR has developed its first Global Strategy for Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE 2014 – 2018). This enables UNHCR to have a more comprehensive response to energy issues, applying cutting edge approaches, ideas and technologies. UNHCR is supporting sustainable environmental management programmes in some 24 countries in which it operates.
  • UNHCR is undertaking projects to reduce emissions and improve efficiency of operations. The carbon credit project in Rwanda for cook stoves is a great example of UNHCR’s commitment to reach its carbon neutrality. The total emission reductions achieved from this small project alone was 17,650 tCO2e.

Inventory Management Plans


UNHCR reports Greenhouse gas emissions associated with its headquarters in Geneva. This includes emissions related to travel and buildings/facilities.




UNHCR offset its headquarters emission for 2015 by purchasing Certified Emission Reduction Credits, specifically from the UNFCC’s Adaptation Fund.


Next steps


UNHCR will fulfil its obligation to go carbon neutral by 2020 and put in place the necessary mechanisms to do so, which include:

  • Designating accountability for follow-up to a member of the Senior Executive Team and to an office that can coordinate on the environmental sustainability issues;
  • Setting up an Environmental Management System, embracing Emission Reduction Strategy (ERS) that includes Headquarters, Regional and Country operations. Components of a ERS will include interventions, inter alia:
    • monitoring of the environmental impacts of facilities and travel through an annual inventory;
    • collection of waste management and water usage data for HQs & field offices;
    • undertaking projects to reduce emissions and promote climate change adaptation both for facilities and programmes related to our population of concern, and
    • Offsetting of unavoidable emissions (e.g. travel).
  • UNHCR is one of four UN agencies piloting carbon foot printing of emergency preparedness activities funded by the UK-Ready to Respond project.


UNHCR and sustainability

UNHCR, the environment and climate change

UNHCR case studies