United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)


HQ: Bonn, Germany
Number of locations: 3


Key figures



Offsetting is only the last resort, and reduction measures must go on. There is much potential for further cuts in our greenhouse gas emissions, by changing the way we work, travel, organize our meetings and conferences. The Climate Change secretariat will continue to reduce its carbon footprint."

Ms. Christiana Figueres,
Executive Secretary
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (UNFCCC)

Executive Secretary's Message


I am glad to report that the UNFCCC secretariat - the institution dedicated to support international efforts to combat climate change - achieved climate neutrality in December 2012. As of then, we reduce our greenhouse gas footprint to the extent possible, and offset the remainder on a yearly basis in order to maintain our neutrality. 

It is our commitment to purchase offsets from the Adaptation Fund, in order to ensure that the proceeds of the carbon credits we use for offsetting go towards adaptation measures in countries that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. I call upon all sister UN organizations to offset their unavoidable emissions, to use carbon credits from CDM projects, and to consider Adaptation Fund CERs in particular.

Still, there is no room for complacency. Offsetting is only the last resort, and reduction measures must go on. There is much potential for further cuts in our greenhouse gas emissions, by changing the way we work, travel, organize our meetings and conferences. The Climate Change secretariat will continue to reduce its carbon footprint."

Ms. Christiana Figueres


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 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. As the final step towards climate neutrality, in 2012, it launched an offsetting scheme for 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 UNFCCC Parties to fund reduction and offsetting efforts.

At its headquarters, the secretariat’s offices are entirely powered by electricity from renewable sources – which is key to any effective emission reduction. Together with a number of energy and resource saving measures, this has lead 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 UNFCCC 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, and, where unavoidable, use of 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 travellers as well as, sometimes, among donors.

Last not least, the secretariat has been able to effectively advise and assist governments who host UNFCCC conferences and meetings in measuring and reducing these events’ footprints. 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.


Reduction efforts

Headquarters operations:

  • 100% electricity from renewable sources
  • Ongoing replacement/upgrade of office equipment
  • Use of energy-efficient lighting, shared printers, recycled/certified paper, energy-efficient cars and bicycles for local transportation, waste separation and recycling/incineration (no landfilling)
  • Replacement of printed with on-line publications
  • 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:

  • Travel policy conducive to emission reductions through, e.g., most efficient mode of travel and direct routing;
  • compulsory train travel for trips of up to 6 hours duration;
  • maximum train and/or economy class travel of staff to Conferences of Parties, training, etc., irrespective of duration
  • Avoidance of travel through tele-, video- and on-line conferencing, e.g., for most job interviews, many training activities, etc.
  • Limitation on number of staff representing the secretariat at external meetings
  • Avoidance of staff travel by holding more UNFCCC meetings at the seat of the secretariat rather than at distant locations

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 UNFCCC conferences
  • offsetting the remaining balance is now standard practice for host governments, including for all participants’ travel
  • Use of United Nations PaperSmart: replacement of printed conference documents with on-line, print-on-demand ones


  • Approval of use of budgetary resources for emission reduction investments and offsets


In 2012, the Climate Change secretariat launched its offsetting scheme and thereby achieved full climate neutrality!

After avoiding carbon intensive headquarters and travel activities and reducing the footprint of the remaining ones, the secretariat still generated some 5,800 tons CO2equ in 2012. To offset this balance, it purchased and cancelled Adaptation Fund CERs.

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 addition, host countries of UNFCCC Conferences of Parties have established the practice of compensating for the carbon footprint of COPs through various measures such as CDM or local projects.


Next steps

In the years to come, the 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 use of virtual communication and collaboration tools to avoid travel; concentrating UNFCCC meetings and workshops at the seat of UNFCCC to minimize travel by UNFCCC staff; widening the scope of economy class travel to reduce the GHG footprint per mile travelled.

Second, the secretariat’s new headquarters building has been built to high environmental standards, with locally produced, natural materials, zero-emission annexes, solar power and geothermal heat. Yet, this building is too small for the entire secretariat, so an additional building is already being designed with completion scheduled for 2017/18. The aim is for it is to comply with even higher environmental standards.

Finally, emphasis will be put on a more systematic approach to greening UNFCCC conferences and meetings, including those smaller ones that are not yet fully climate neutral.

Find out more about UNFCCC and sustainability

UNFCCC case studies