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Taking a critical look at the UN’s use of carbon offsets

‘Climate neutrality: The term is meaningless, it’s misleading… it’s greenwashing.’


In a year beset by overlapping environmental disasters, the aid sector is struggling to respond to the rising needs of vulnerable communities around the world. But the sector’s own practices, and particularly those of the UN, are coming under increasing scrutiny.

Our joint investigation with Mongabay found that the UN’s claims of carbon neutrality amount to greenwashing, mainly because they are based on purchases of millions of low-quality carbon credits.

The findings of the investigation were discussed with our editors and guests in an online conversation hosted by The New Humanitarian on 21 November. 

Do the UN’s false claims of climate neutrality undermine its wider efforts and credibility to address global warming? Are there alternative ways that the UN and the wider aid sector can frame efforts to address climate change that others could learn from? 

A recent UN report suggests no immediate change, but according to one anonymous comment during the conversation, the world body is at least taking notice:

“In the UN, the [TNH] investigation has led to a lot of discussion internally. The use of the term ‘carbon neutral’ comes from the UN Sustainability Strategy, which also refers to offsets and has specific targets related to carbon neutrality. So [the UN] would probably need changes/updates in the strategy or its implementation to change this. But [the] point [is] well taken and many within [the] UN [are] also well aware,” they said.

Watch a recording of the conversation below:


  • Paisley Dodds, Investigations Editor, The New Humanitarian
  • Jacob Goldberg, Staff Editor and Reporter, Investigations, The New Humanitarian
  • ​Joseph Romm, Senior Research Fellow, University of Pennsylvania Center for Science, Sustainability, and the Media
  • Dikolela Kalubi, Planetary Health Coordinator, MSF
  • Will Worley, Policy Editor and Reporter, The New Humanitarian (moderator)
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