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Excessive NGOs carbon footprint

Aug 20,2023 - Last updated at Aug 20,2023

In the global struggle against climate change, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play a crucial role in advocating for urgent measures to mitigate its impact on the biodiversity of our planet, as an example set forward for other local institutions and government myriad sectors of the economy. These organisations tirelessly work to raise awareness, shape policies and inspire collective action for a sustainable future, particularly in developing countries, such as the case in Jordan. However, a paradox often emerges when examining the practices of some of these NGOs; The paradox between their environmental advocacy and carbon-intensive footprint as a result of international travel, exotic venues hired and luxury accommodations.

NGOs are at the forefront of promoting climate-conscious behaviours and urging governments, private enterprises and industries to adopt sustainable practices. Yet, the frequent long-haul flights, lavish venues hired in the main cities and hotel accommodations chosen for their staff and invitees for conferences and meetings, locally and abroad, contribute to carbon emissions on a global scale. This paradox raises valid questions about the consistency and credibility of their climate responsibility message. Therefore, we wonder if these organisations are truly practicing what they preach, or is there a dire need for them to reevaluate their approach and practices visa vie advocating for climate measures that seek to control global warming!

The need for in-person meetings of NGO`s to strategise and collaborate is understandable to a certain extent, especially at the top levels. However, NGOs must consider the environmental consequences of their travel choices for the bulk of their participants. Long flights, particularly those involving intercontinental travel, which are amongst the most carbon-intensive transport activities an individual can be engaged in. For example, one kilometre travelled in an international flight produces 100-120 grammes of CO2 for each person, per each kilometre travelled, compared to travel by EURO Star train of 3-10 grammes per km per each person emissions.

In the language of numbers, this means that an average of 5,000 kilometres annual international travel per person would produce almost 600 kilogrammes of CO2 annually. To counteract these emissions, it requires planting 30 trees annually and waiting for 15 years for them to mature in order to balance the carbon credit. Of course, other counter activities can be considered, such as using renewable energy as a source of energy to replace fossil fuel consumption.

Despite the availability of virtual meetings, successful training and rich experience that global citizens have had during the Corona pandemic, NGOs often justify physical presence in meetings as essential for building relationships and fostering impactful discussions on eye-to-eye basis. However convincing that might be, it is essential to strike a balance between the necessity of face-to-face interaction and the imperative to reduce carbon emissions has become paramount in our warming world. This urge comes amidst fears of not meeting the 1.5º-2.0ºC limit of increase in average atmospheric temperature by 2050, compared to the level of the pre-industrial revolution.

Similarly, the choice of accommodations during local activities and international gatherings is another aspect that merits scrutiny. Opting for five stars hotels not only contributes to excessive resource consumption but also sends a mixed signal about an NGO's commitment to sustainability. While some NGOs might argue that posh hotels facilitate productive interactions and networking opportunities, yet the negative environmental impact must not be ignored. Exploring alternatives, such as renting eco-friendly lodgings, choosing venues for meeting spaces at local NGO's available spaces and renting main offices in the less privileged towns rather than crowded capitals, consequently these activities can assist in distributing wealth more justly around the country and allow environmental activities to be more closely aligned with the sponsor's mission.

The difference between carbon emissions using a five-star hotel and a three-star hotel can be shocking, considering energy, water and food offered. Therefore, to address this carbon footprint dilemma, NGOs can take several proactive measures. Firstly, embracing intelligent technology for virtual meetings and conferences, whenever feasible, can significantly reduce travel-related emissions. It has been proven that video conferencing platforms have advanced to a point where meaningful discussions and collaborations can take place virtually, negating the need for unnecessary long and exhaustive flights, as well as negating the use of extravagant venues and accommodation.

Secondly, when physical presence is unavoidable, NGOs can adopt carbon-offset programmes to counterbalance their emissions. This approach must be in conjunction with their annual schedule. Eventually investing in various endeavours, such as reforestation, renewable energy projects, recycling, circular economy and carbon capture initiatives that can help mitigate the environmental damage caused by travel and else. Surely, it can be argued that the latter green activities might be outside the scope of their missions, however, reinterpreting NGO`s mission rational ought to be reconsidered within the urgency framework of climate action.

Lastly, NGOs can lead carbon footprint awareness by example and encourage their local and international partners and sponsors to follow suit. This can be done by demonstrating their commitment to reducing carbon emissions and by practicing sustainability, so that they can influence others working within the climate advocacy sphere to reevaluate their own practices and construct a new vision of self-consciousness, policy making and more equitable support to the population outside the capitals.

In conclusion, the dichotomy between some NGOs advocating for climate measures and their carbon-intensive activities poses a pertinent challenge. While these organisations undeniably play an essential role in raising awareness about climate change and sponsor green activities worldwide, it is imperative for them to be consistent with their goals and address their own carbon footprint. This can be achieved by reassessing their travel practices, choosing the geography of their offices, embracing virtual meeting alternatives, supporting sustainable eco-friendly accommodations and modest meeting venues, as well as actively participating in carbon-offset initiatives. In doing so, NGOs can bridge the gap between their advocacy and their actions and can enhance their credibility, set an example for others, locally and internationally, and at the same time contribute meaningfully to our collective fierce struggle against climate change.

 

Ayoub Abu Dayyeh is an energy and green building consultant

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