United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)


HQ: Geneva, Switzerland

Focal Point: Andrea Dekrout

Email: dekrout [at] unhcr.org


Key figures: Greenhouse gas emissions*


 * In 2017, UNHCR's GHG inventory included Betou, Budapest, Canberra, Copenhagen, Dar Es Salaam, Geneva, Harare, Kakuma, Tinduf and Tongogara.


Key Figures: Waste


Key Figures: Water


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 in Geneva (for facilities and travel). The major source of UNHCR’s emissions consistently remains air travel, contributing 46% of emissions according to the 2017 Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) inventory.


EMS and Reduction efforts


In 2018-2019, UNHCR with support from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and the UN Environment’s Sustainable United Nations team will pilot EMS implementation in Jordan.

In 2018 UNHCR together with UN Environment and other UN partners participated in UNHCR’s first Environmental Peer Review of its operation in Kakuma, Kenya. The peer review helped highlight opportunities to improve environmental performance and identified plastic waste reduction as a key opportunity for improvement. UNHCR has since worked with partners to complete a comprehensive plastic waste audit and management plan for operations in Kenya and Ethiopia which UNHCR seeks to implement in 2019.

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

  • Implementing UNHCR’s Global Strategy for Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE 2014 – 2018), which enables UNHCR to have a more comprehensive response to energy issues, applying cutting edge approaches, ideas and technologies;
  • Providing renewable energy options for refugees. Examples include establishing a solar farm in Azraq camp, the world’s first clean energy refugee camp in Jordan; replacement of diesel 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;
  • Exploring hybrid energy solutions for UNHCR field offices and staff accommodation to replace diesel generators as well as vehicle management systems;
  • Developing UNHCR Policy on Sustainable Procurement.

Inventory Management Plans


In the 2017 inventory, UNHCR reported greenhouse gas emissions associated with 10 offices. This includes emissions related to buildings/facilities and travel.

For the 2018 inventory, the ambition is to significantly increase number of participating offices.




UNHCR will offset its emissions from the offices that participated in 2017 GHG inventory by purchasing Gold Standard Certified Emission Reduction Credits with demonstrated co-benefits for women.


Waste Management


In 2018, UNHCR initiated reporting to the SUN on waste generated in several offices, including Bassikounou, Betou, Budapest, Canberra, Copenhagen, Dar Es Salaam, Geneva, Harare, Kakuma, Moscow, Tinduf and Tongogara.

In 2018, UNHCR partnered with Norwegian Engineers Without Borders (NEWB) to conduct plastic waste analysis in Kakuma (Kenya) and Ethiopia (Melkadida and Jijiga). This partnership will be expanded in 2018 to include Jordan and Geneva office and potentially other UNHCR operations in 2019. Centred on the promotion of income generation activities, which target recycling and reuse of plastic waste, the initiative aims to achieve environmental gains while generating income to sustain itself and supplement livelihoods.


Water Management


In 2018, UNHCR initiated reporting to the SUN on water management in 12 offices, including Geneva in Switzerland, Budapest in Hungary, Copenhagen in Denmark, Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, Kakuma in Kenya, Canberra in Australia, Tongogara and Harare in Zimbabwe, Betou in Congo, Tindouf in Algeria, Moscow in Russia and Bassikounou in Mauritania.


Other Environmental Measures


UNHCR is undertaking a number of land and forest restoration programs and is working to improve the quality and sustainability of these initiatives. For example, in 2018 UNHCR worked with partners to bring an additional 100 ha of degraded land in Northern Cameroon under community-based sustainable land management, with long-term monitoring. Similar initiatives are taking place in other operations and in 2019 UNHCR will work on a land and forest management inventory to allow for global monitoring and reporting.

UNHCR also works closely with FAO to improve land and forest management in refugee contexts. The two organisations have recently co-released technical guidance on forestry in displacement settings and are working on establishing standard methods for valuing and managing non-timber forest products which will be validated in 2019.

UNHCR is also working with IUCN to successfully tackle issues of Human-Wildlife conflict in refugee hosting areas in Bangladesh. UNHCR is working to expand its partnerships with conservation agencies in 2019.


Next steps


For 2019, UNHCR is planning to expand GHG, waste and water inventory to include several operations from each region where the organization works. It will also continue cooperation with the NEWB on reviewing UNHCR’s waste streams and identifying ways to reduce them and utilize them for productive use.


UNHCR and sustainability

UNHCR, the environment and climate change

UNHCR case studies