The UNFCCC secretariat’s sustainability efforts are part of a wider United Nations campaign to manage
its sustainability performance by measuring, reducing and offsetting its impacts, particularly its carbon
footprint. The UN as a whole and the UNFCCC itself have mandates to strive to increase sustainability
efforts and cut carbon footprint.
The UNFCCC secretariat has achieved its aim of full climate neutrality by the end of 2012,
through emission avoidance and reduction, plus an offsetting scheme using Adaptation Fund CERs for the
remaining balance. For the years to come, the primary goal will be to further avoid and reduce emissions
so that as little as possible needs to be offset.
Towards climate neutrality
The secretariat follows the three-step approach endorsed by the UN’s Chief Executives Board:
inventory emissions, reduce emissions, and offset the remaining balance. We will continue to use this
Under inventory, the resolution of data we collect is being increased in order to enable customized
and targeted reduction and offsetting.
On the ground, at home
The UNFCCC secretariat’s current offices are entirely powered by electricity from renewable sources,
and have been for several years. Naturally, we use energy-efficient lighting, shared printers and certified
We are continuously replacing old with new, maximally energy-efficient office equipment and vehicles, and
more sustainable office practices, such as electronic workflows and print-on-demand to reduce printed
documents and publications. Where possible, we’ve replaced print with online publications and
We also practice green procurement, and staff have the option of preferential public transport cards for
professional and personal commuting.
These and other efforts have enabled the secretariat to sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions from running its
offices to currently less than 5 percent of its overall footprint.
A more detailed list of our efforts is available at our page on the Greening the Blue website,
New, sustainable headquarters
The secretariat’s new headquarters has been built to the highest environmental standards, from
locally produced, natural, environmentally sustainable materials. Photovoltaic panels power in-house
ventilation. Modern hydro-geothermal technology, using water from the Rhine, will be used to regulate
temperature in the building.
Parts of the building are built to passive house standards, with internal heat harnessing, extreme
insulation and central natural ventilation.
Reducing our travel footprint
To further reduce emissions, the UNFCCC secretariat is focussing on travel. At last count, more
than 95 percent of our total carbon footprint resulted from air travel. This included business and
employment travel of secretariat staff, as well as the travel of delegates and experts funded by the
Reducing our emissions from travel requires significant changes in policies and practices which affects all
aspects of travel. We are approaching this in two main ways:
The first approach is to entirely avoid travel whenever possible. This largely includes encouraging and
facilitating the use of tele-, video- and online conferences. Not only has this reduced the need to travel,
it has also increased the level of communication with external counterparts and has proven to be both viable
and popular with staff and external partners. In addition, UNFCCC bodies and committees are encouraged to
hold their meetings at the seat of the secretariat, so as to avoid the need to transport UNFCCC staff and
material to external locations away from headquarters, which would involve higher costs and have a higher
The second approach is to implement a travel policy which prioritizes less carbon intensive routes and modes
of travel, for example, by increasing economy class travel and, whenever possible, making travel by train the
Reducing the carbon footprint of major conferences
The secretariat also consistently encourages, assists and advises governments hosting UNFCCC
meetings in their efforts to make these events to the greatest extent possible climate neutral.
Host governments of Climate Change Talks and Climate Change Conferences since 2005 have
generally been eager to work with us in this domain and have become increasingly successful in
achieving their objectives.
The hosts of meetings have taken a variety of steps to reduce the local greenhouse gas emissions
resulting from these conferences, including the use of efficient lighting at the conference venues
and promoting the use of public transportation by participants. They have also put in place projects
to compensate for the remaining carbon footprint of COPs. A good example is COP15 in Copenhagen in
December 2010. See
here (422 kB) .
A new focus is on making UNFCCC conferences paper-light. Through a variety of measures, the secretariat has
already reduced paper usage during the first sessions of 2012 to 480,000 printed pages, down from 1.25
million printed pages for the same event the year before. At COP18 in Doha in November 2012, the secretariat
will be deploying the United Nations PaperSmart concept to further maximize the use of electronic documents
and minimize the need for printed documents.
Over the years, the secretariat has taken an increasingly comprehensive approach to greening UNFCCC
conferences and meetings. An overview of best practices can be found in this
presentation (247 kB) . An exemplary summary of the integrated efforts made and measures taken by a
host city and country is shown in the report from
COP17 (6499 kB) held in Durban in December 2011. A list of measures for COP18 in Doha in November 2012 is
A challenge that remains is to motivate the many participants of conferences and meetings to reduce their own
carbon footprint, especially from travel.
Offsetting what cannot be avoided
It is the central mandate of the secretariat to support the intergovernmental process by arranging meetings
and related travel as well as conducting work from our offices at headquarters. Despite our best efforts,
there will always be a remaining balance of GHG emissions which needs to be dealt with.
NEW: Starting with 2012, the overall impact of the secretariat's operations will be
In 2012, for the first time, the secretariat is fully offsetting all unavoidable GHG emissions by
purchasing, and immediately cancelling, certified emission reductions from CDM projects (CERs).
The secretariat has chosen Adaptation Fund CERs for
its offsetting scheme.
With this choice, the secretariat is following two paramount objectives:
First, the Adaptation Fund has been established to finance concrete adaptation projects and
programmes in developing countries. The proceeds from the purchase of CERs benefit especially those
countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.
Second, the Adaptation Fund is mainly financed from a share of two per cent of CERs that are issued
each year for CDM projects. The purchase of Adaptation Fund CERs does not support a particular CDM
project or a sub-set of projects, but the widest possible cross-section of CDM projects, including
from currently underrepresented countries.
The secretariat has therefore agreed with the Adaptation Fund Board, its secretariat (the Global
Environmental Facility), and its trustee (the World Bank) to purchase AF CERs representing its
estimated GHG emissions. The secretariat then cancels the equivalents of emissions actually
generated through its activities, thus removing them permanently from the market so they cannot be
traded or reused.
Greening the Blue: Towards a climate-neutral UN
On 5 June 2007 - World Environment Day – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced his
commitment to lead by example to make the UN climate-neutral. He then invited the executive heads of
all UN programmes, funds and specialized agencies to join him in this effort to move swiftly towards
climate neutrality, also with the goal of increasing public awareness of the need for more
sustainable patterns of consumption.
In line with the rest of the UN family, the UNFCCC secretariat is gearing up to become climate
neutral. Since 2004, we have been maintaining and reporting on the inventory of its greenhouse gas
emissions deriving from office operations and from travel, both at headquarters and during conference
More details of UN efforts may be found at the "Greening the Blue" website, designed to improve the
UN’s communications on its internal sustainability performance.
The UN family has now launched the third edition of its annual report on what we are doing
about our climate neutrality, including the summary results of the GHG inventory for the year 2010.
Executive summary of related UNFCCC activities on the Greening the Blue website.