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UN Headquarters refurbishment aims to meet ‘green’ standards – official

UN Headquarters refurbishment aims to meet ‘green’ standards – official

The senior United Nations management official today said a planned $1.9 billion refurbishment of the Organization’s dilapidated Headquarters complex will aim to meet or even exceed environmental standards.

Reviewing the timetable for the overhaul, known as the “capital master plan,” Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, said parts of the Secretariat’s iconic building would be vacated and renovated while other parts would remain in use.

Movement of staff would begin in 2008, with construction on a lawn on the UN’s premises to begin the same year so that the General Assembly could meet in the new space during the renovation.

“We are taking this opportunity of the capital master plan to move ahead with the ‘greening of the UN,’” she said. “This is a very important opportunity for all of us and we’re going to take it to make sure the UN can become a model, if we can, on the environmental front.”

She acknowledged that this is a tall order. “It is not going to be easy because this is an old building that we are renovating. If we start from scratch it would be easier,” she said.

To guide its work, the UN was following the standards set by LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a group that provides certification to buildings in the United States when they accomplish certain measures. The UN was trying to achieve the group’s ‘silver rating,’” said Ms. Bárcena.

“We are trying to go further if we can,” she added.

Ms. Bárcena said top priority would be given to eliminating safety and health risks. “This is an old building, so as soon as you start renovating there might be the risk of certain substances that can appear in the construction, like asbestos,” she said, emphasizing that these factors would be fully taken into account.

She said a recent fire inspection by the local New York City authorities revealed numerous flaws. “Others call them violations but we call them directives,” she said of the Fire Department’s findings. “They found 850 directives, of which we are taking care of them one by one,” she said, adding that a detailed plan of action has also been put into place to address each concern.

“When the capital master plan is finished in 2014 we will not only meet the existing fire safety regulations in New York; we hope that we will exceed them,” she said.

The main UN Headquarters buildings were constructed in 1949 and 1950 and have not been significantly improved or maintained since then. They are extremely energy inefficient, costing the UN more than $30 million a year in energy costs alone. The capital master plan is expected to save costs in the long run while saving energy.

Ms. Bárcena also briefed correspondents on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s proposals on UN peacekeeping, which are now under consideration by the budget watchdog, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

Under the plan, the new Department of Peace Operations would consolidate all factors dealing with strategy, planning and deployment while the new Department of Field Support would take on the responsibility of what Mr. Ban has called the current “impossibly overstretched” management.

Ms. Bárcena said the proposals as they relate to the regular UN budget are “cost neutral,” with increases being sought from the “support account,” a mechanism funded through the individual budgets of peacekeeping missions. The aim would be to reduce the current headquarters-to-field staff ratio from 1 for every 149 to 1 for every 106. An increase of $65 million is being sought.

“Yes, it includes an increase in posts and yes, it includes an increase in money, but this increase in numbers and resources in a certain way was going to be there even if the restructuring was not proposed,” she said, explaining that the changes were long overdue.

Of the 495 new posts being sought, not all were to be in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, she said, noting that some 80 would go to the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the UN’s investigative arm.

Ms. Bárcena also reviewed progress in improving the UN’s internal justice system with steps being taken to start strengthening the Ombudsman and mediation capacity while bolstering formal judicial structures.

On a more personal note, Ms. Bárcena said she would make her own financial disclosure form public. This follows the example of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro. Others would be made public on a voluntary basis.