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LONDON (Reuters) - The United Nations wants to make up for lagging behind others' initiatives by setting a high standard in plans to go carbon neutral within a few years, a U.N. official said on Friday.
Carbon offsetting involves paying someone else to cut greenhouse gas emissions on your behalf, with the aim of not adding to the global stock of gases blamed for global warming, and going carbon neutral involves offsetting all your emissions.
The United Nations is lagging the field, after governments, businesses and nations announced plans to go carbon neutral, and wants to make up by leading the way in quality.
"We are behind. We're obviously not the first. We can make a difference with the quality of the carbon offsets we use," Janos Pasztor, the U.N. official heading the program, said in a telephone interview.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described plans to make all U.N. premises and operations "climate neutral" in a letter addressed to heads of U.N. agencies earlier this month.
Carbon offsetting has drawn criticism from analysts, the media and green groups such as WWF for a number of reasons, including possibly diverting attention from real action to cut one's own contribution to global warming.
In addition, the quality of carbon offsets available through voluntary, unregulated schemes has been undermined by a lack of standards.
Meanwhile regulated offsetting under the U.N.-sponsored Kyoto Protocol has focused very much on lucrative emissions-cutting projects to destroy potent greenhouse gases called HFCs from big industrial enterprises, instead of supplying "green" energy to poor communities.
Pasztor wanted to go beyond the U.N.'s Kyoto program.
"We could add additional sustainable development criteria, for example to focus on energy efficiency or on projects in Africa, instead of buying HFC carbon credits," he said.
"For our carbon offsetting program I would say that Kyoto carbon credits are an absolute minimum criteria."
"Everyone's aware of the quality of offsets, or lack of it."
U.N. plans had already received interest from Norway, which announced plans in April to go carbon neutral by 2050, Pasztor said. Costa Rica wants to go carbon neutral by 2021.
The U.N.'s entire annual greenhouse gas emissions could be of the order of 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, he said.