United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)


HQ: Bonn, Germany

Focal Point: Dragoslav Jovanović


Key figures: Greenhouse gas emissions



Key Figures: Waste


Executive Secretary's Message


“For the year 2016, the UN Climate Change secretariat will again be climate neutral. We have been reducing and compensating unavoidable emissions since 2012 and are committed to continue doing so as we walk the climate talk. We have also cooperated with UN Environment to support other UN organizations in becoming climate neutral. We are happy to have helped 28 sister agencies and events, such as the UN Environment Assembly, offset residual emissions equal to around 25% of the UN system’s carbon footprint. We take special pride in the last two UN Climate Change conferences which we have organized not only for being climate neutral but also International Standards Organization certified.

In addition, through our Climate Neutral Now initiative we have received more than 90 pledges from companies, events, sub-national authorities and other organizations to move towards climate neutrality themselves through voluntary action to measure, reduce and offset their greenhouse gas emissions. We also continue to highlight transformative climate projects through our Momentum for Change initiative and keeping track of public commitments by Non-Party Stakeholders which include cities, states, regions, territories, business and investors.

We are, in equal measure, very proud of our achievements that seek to increasingly align with the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement while being very aware of our remaining challenges. We are thankful for the support and contributions that the whole UN system has made, and I am sure that we will continue to advance together toward a climate neutral future.”

Ms. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC




The Convention on Climate Change sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Convention enjoys near universal membership, with 194 countries having ratified.


Experience so far


The UN Climate Change secretariat has been monitoring the greenhouse gas emissions from its headquarters and travel operations and taking measures to reduce them for many years already.

At its headquarters, the secretariat’s offices are powered by electricity solely from renewable sources – which is key to any effective emission reduction. Together with a number of energy and resource saving measures, this has led to a sharp cut in emissions from office operations to currently less than 5% of the secretariat’s overall carbon footprint.

The remaining 95% of the footprint are generated by the travel of secretariat-funded participants coming to UN Climate Change meetings and of secretariat staff. This is an inevitable challenge, given that support to the intergovernmental negotiations is at the core of the secretariat’s mandate. Measures taken to address this include avoidance of travel especially by secretariat staff, facilitated also by the UN Climate Change Parties’ decision to hold as many UN Climate Change meetings as possible at the seat of the secretariat. Where travel is unavoidable, preference is given to less carbon intensive ways of travelling such as by train or in economy class. Not all of these measures are always met with enthusiasm, so they need to be accompanied by awareness-raising among travelers as well as, sometimes, among donors.

As the final step towards climate neutrality, the UN Climate Change secretariat has offset, on an annual basis since 2012, the balance of emissions from its unavoidable activities by purchasing and cancelling Adaptation Fund Certified Emission Reductions. Instrumental in this has been the budgetary authorization from UN Climate Change Parties to fund reduction and offsetting efforts.

Beyond its own boundaries, the secretariat has been able to effectively advise and assist governments who host large UN Climate Change conferences in measuring and reducing these events’ footprints. Also, since 2005, it has become standard practice for host countries to offset the remaining balance of related emissions, including that of all participants’ travel to the venue.

COP 21 and COP 22 under the ISO 20121 standard for sustainability management systems, the environmental performance of COP 23 will be certified by an external environmental verifier under EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme), an environmental management system based on an EU regulation. EMAS provides the overall framework for the sustainable organization of the sessions, covering aspects such as energy and resource efficiency, legal compliance and stakeholder engagement

In addition, the UN Climate Change secretariat has advocated emissions reduction and offsetting measures within the UN system, and helped many other UN agencies become climate neutral, including the Secretary-General and his team. Since 2015, it offers a platform for every individual or organization around the world to become Climate Neutral Now!

Reduction efforts

Headquarters operations:
  • 100% electricity from renewable sources
  • HQ building built and operated to high environmental standards: partly “zero emission”, hydro-geo-thermal energy supplemented by district heating, solar power, local natural, smart building technology control systems, etc.
  • Ongoing replacement/upgrade and use of office equipment to higher energy efficiency: lighting, cars, bicycles, shared printers not individual, etc.
  • Materials and waste: 100% recycled or certified paper; written-off IT equipment sold for reusal before recycling; waste separation, recycling, incineration of residuals, no landfilling
  • Replacement of printed with on-line publications and conference documentation
  • Sustainable Procurement: vendor and product sustainability are obligatory selection criteria; e.g., local transportation provider offsets all its emissions
  • Ongoing awareness-raising among staff
  • Preferential tickets for staff to use public transportation to commute to work (“job ticket”)
Travel activities:
  • Avoidance of staff travel by organizing UN Climate Change meetings at the seat of the secretariat as a default
  • Strict limit on number of staff representing the secretariat at external meetings
  • Avoidance of travel through tele-, video- and on-line conferencing, e.g., for most job interviews, many training activities, etc.
  • Travel policy conducive to emission reductions through most efficient mode of travel, most direct routing, incentives for voluntary downgrades
  • Train travel compulsory for all trips of less than 6 hours’ duration (approx. 500 km)
  • Maximum train and/or economy class travel of staff to conferences, training, etc., irrespective of duration
Conference activities:
  • Standard provision on environmental sustainability in host country agreements for conferences
  • Systematic support to host countries in measuring and minimizing carbon footprint of UN Climate Change conferences
  • Offsetting the remaining balance is now standard practice for host governments, including for all participants’ travel
  • Approval of use of budgetary resources for emission reduction investments and offsets



In 2012, the UN Climate Change secretariat launched its offsetting scheme and thereby became one of the first five UN agencies to achieve full climate neutrality!

After avoiding carbon intensive headquarters and travel activities and reducing the footprint of the remaining ones, the secretariat still generates between 4,000 and 6,000 tons CO2eq per year. To offset this balance, it purchases and cancels Adaptation Fund CERs on annual basis.

Adaptation Fund CERs were selected because they serve two important goals. First, they originate from the widest cross-section of all CDM projects, globally and indiscriminately. Second, the Adaptation Fund finances work in those countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. In effect, Adaptation Fund CERs are the only credits that benefit efforts to both mitigate climate change and adapt to it

In addition, host countries of UN Climate Change Conferences of Parties have established the practice of compensating for the carbon footprint of all COPs since 2005. A large number of UN Climate Change secretariat staff have followed the call by the Executive Secretary to offset their personal GHG emissions and those of their families through Adaptation Fund CERs. The UN Climate Change secretariat also assists many UN agencies in offsetting their footprints, and provides a convenient way to offset for everyone, everywhere.


Waste management


The UN Climate Change secretariat follows the UN methodology for measuring, reporting and managing waste.

The written-off IT equipment is sold for reuse before recycling; The UN Climate Change secretariat applies the waste separation, recycling, incineration of residuals and no landfilling principles.


Next steps


In the years to come, the UN Climate Change secretariat will maintain its climate neutrality. It will continue to cut emissions so that as little as possible remains to be offset through the offsetting scheme with the Adaptation Fund.

The focus of reduction efforts will be in the area of travel, where most emissions are generated. Next steps include increasing the use of virtual communication and collaboration tools to avoid travel; further concentrating UN Climate Change meetings and workshops at the seat of UN Climate Change secretariat to minimize travel by UN Climate Change secretariat staff; widening the scope of train and economy class travel to reduce the GHG footprint per mile travelled.

A second important opportunity is the new office building for over 300 staff that is under construction, with completion scheduled for 2020. The goal is to attain the Gold Certificate under “BNB”, the German sustainable construction and building standard.

Thirdly, emphasis will be put on a more systematic approach to greening UN Climate Change off-site conferences and meetings, including those smaller ones that are not yet fully climate neutral.
The UN Climate Change secretariat is in the process of designing an Environmental Management System that will comply with ISO 14001, and aspires to go for certification in the not too distant future. It has already expressed interest in the UN Environmental Management Peer Review exercise.

As a hub where UN and international efforts to combat climate change are bundled, the UN Climate Change secretariat cannot help but reach out beyond its boundaries, too. It will enhance and promote its offers to the UN system, but also to businesses and individuals around the globe, to achieve the goal of climate neutrality.

Find out more about UNFCCC and sustainability

UNFCCC case studies