Betsy Pisik – “U.N. thermostat to be set higher”

U.N. thermostat to be set higher
Taking on hot air for good of the world

Betsy Pisik | July 30, 2008

Everyone complains about climate change, and the United Nations is finally doing something about it – on Friday, the temperature inside U.N. headquarters in New York will rise by 5 degrees.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations’ self-professed environmental secretary-general, ordered the “In-House Climate Change Initiative” to save energy, cut carbon emissions and try to mitigate climate change.

Officials said the monthlong experiment – dubbed “Cool U.N.” – also will allow engineers to test energy consumption and utility costs in the notoriously antiquated building.

It also will stretch the comfort and good will of about 4,500 staffers, who work in the glass-walled Secretariat, a veritable 39-story terrarium planted in full sun on the East River.

“It will be like Addis Ababa,” said one crestfallen staff member, referring to the tropical capital of Ethiopia. “The air conditioning didn’t work too well there, either.”

Anwarul Chowdhury, a former U.N. ambassador from Bangladesh, said Tuesday that the Cool U.N. initiative sounds like “tokenism.”

Nevertheless, he said, the extra 5 degrees of heat might give diplomats some compassion for the developing world.

“Some of us grow up in a natural environment,” said Mr. Chowdhury, whose home country is infamous for its heat and humidity. “We do not have the benefits of air conditioning. It is important to understand the realities of living in various parts of the world.”

To make the adjustment easier, Mr. Ban will encourage diplomats and bureaucrats inside headquarters to wear their national dress, which was once the norm.

Suit jackets and ties will be discretionary, said one of Mr. Ban’s aides, noting that the secretary-general will lead by example.

“Look for a cool, calm, casual S.G.,” said an e-mail from Mr. Ban’s office.

In the landmark Secretariat building, thermostat settings will rise from 72 degrees to 77 degrees for August workdays.

The air conditioning is to be switched off during weekends, which some fear could make for sweltering Monday mornings.

Government buildings in Japan and Mr. Ban’s native South Korea have long been uncomfortable for employees in the hottest months.

However, the executive floor here thinks this will be the first time that an international organization has courted “hot air” jokes by voluntarily reducing its use of air conditioning.

“The secretary-general is doing everything he can to mobilize unprecedented international action on climate change,” said Robert Orr, an adviser to Mr. Ban. “Successful negotiations are necessary, but individual and institutional behavior must also change all over the world if we are to address the climate crisis, and the secretary-general felt that this was one way the U.N. could lead by example.”

The effort “isn’t about symbolic sweating,” he added. “If adopted on a large scale, these types of policies could have a major global impact and will definitely help the participating institutions’ bottom line.”

The U.N. headquarters will soon be renovated for the first time in more than 50 years, in large part because the building is deteriorating. Its crooked walls and glass windows that don’t close properly make it an especially drafty place to work.

Published in: on July 30, 2008 at 10:18 PM  Leave a Comment  

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