As it attempts to lead the world toward a more sustainable future, the United Nations has set a policy to move "towards a zero carbon future."

In a report released yesterday, the agency admitted that despite a campaign under way since October 2007, "much still remains to be done." Overall, according to the 30-page document issued by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), its annual emissions are climbing.

The agency's latest data, from 2010, shows that it emitted 1.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent global warming gases. In 2009, the emissions were 1.7 million metric tons, indicating that its carbon footprint grew larger. The report adds, however, that its measuring system is still evolving, so totals for the two years are "comparable up to a point."

The United Nations, which is inviting world diplomats to a conference on sustainability in Rio de Janeiro in June, reports that its biggest problem is its ballooning air travel budget. It produced 51 percent of total 2010 emissions, up from 48 percent in 2008.

According to the report, the United Nations is trying to create a downward trend by encouraging train journeys over air travel, promoting e-conferencing and even providing bicycles for staff members to ride to work, along with free bike repair workshops and also bike-sharing programs.

Among the improvements cited in the report was a high-technology venture, a new UNEP office in Nairobi, Kenya. It features 6,000 square meters of solar panels. The new offices are "energy neutral," according to the report, meaning they generate as much power as they consume over a year.

There are low-tech projects, as well. Last October, the U.N. branch in Geneva encouraged hundreds of sheep to graze the grasslands surrounding its ornate offices in the Palais des Nations. "The sheep cut the grass in an ecologically sustainable manner," the report notes, "whilst providing natural fertilizer for the grass and flowers to grow in spring."

The United Nations, which has 54 agencies around the world and more than 200,000 employees, is on a learning curve. Achim Steiner, undersecretary-general and executive director of UNEP, put it this way in the report: "The process of moving the U.N. towards climate neutrality gives us direct experience of the complexities associated with preparing a large international organization for a green economy."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500