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’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,
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 (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 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
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
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
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.