Environmental Responsibilities of the Secretariat

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 approach.

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 recycled paper.

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 have ve replaced print with online publications and conference documents.

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, here

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 secretariat.

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 environmental impact.

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 norm.

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.

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


. An exemplary summary of the integrated efforts made and measures taken by a host city and country is shown in the report from COP17


held in Durban in December 2011. A list of measures for COP18 in Doha in November 2012 is posted here.

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 climate-neutral

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 meetings.

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.