United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

unfccc.int

HQ: Bonn, Germany

Focal Point: Dragoslav Jovanović

Email: djovanovic [at] unfccc.int

 

Key figures: Greenhouse gas emissions 


 

Key Figures: Waste

Key Figures: Water

 
 

Executive Secretary's Message

 
“UN Climate Change has been climate neutral since 2012. But we continue our efforts to reduce emissions and to show leadership. In collaboration with our hosts, the German government, our offices are designed and operated in the most sustainable ways possible. We have also established strong travel policies to minimize travel and emissions associated with them. Accomplishments to date are the result of the collective effort of our staff.

We continue to support other UN entities in their efforts to compensate their unavoidable emissions associated to their operations so we can achieve the goal of having a climate-neutral UN System by 2020. Furthermore, we continue supporting governments in organizing climate neutral conferences (COPs and SBs) and increasing their sustainability when it is impossible to avoid meeting in person.

Our Climate Neutral Now initiative currently has more than 200 signatories, including companies, sub-national authorities and other organizations who have pledged to move towards climate neutrality by measuring, reducing and offsetting their greenhouse gas emissions. This is an important contribution to our overall goal of achieving climate neutrality at a global level.

We also continue to highlight transformative climate projects through our Momentum for Change initiative and maintain a record of public commitments by non-Party stakeholders, including cities, states, regions, territories, business and investors through NAZCA.

UN Climate Change will continue leading by example and encouraging all stakeholders to work towards achieving a climate-neutral society in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.”


Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, UN Climate Change

Mission

 

With 197 Parties, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has near universal membership and is the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to keep a global average temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The UNFCCC is also the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of all agreements under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development.

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 many host countries to offset the remaining balance of related emissions, including that of all participants’ travel to the venue.

The overall environmental performance of several COPs has been externally certified under ISO 20121 (COP 21 and 22) and EMAS, the European Union Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (COP23), covering aspects such as energy and resource efficiency, legal compliance and stakeholder engagement.  The Sustainable conference website for COP 24 gives many examples of good practices implemented at Climate Change Conferences.  A video on the sustainable organization of UN Climate Change Conferences is available here.

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, most recently, the UN Secretariat HQ and Field Missions. Since 2015, the secretariat has offered a platform for every individual or organization around the world to become Climate Neutral Now! and through its engagement in the IAMLADP Task Force on Sustainable Meetings, it has spread the word and supported other UN bodies with the organization of sustainable meetings.

EMS and 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.
  • Construction of New HQ Extension building is aiming at certification under the German Assessment System for Sustainable Building
  • Ongoing replacement/upgrade and use of office equipment to higher energy efficiency: lighting, cars, bicycles, shared printers…
  • Materials and waste: No-plastic policy (ban of plastic bottles and containers); 100% recycled or certified paper; written-off IT equipment donated for reuse before recycling; waste separation, recycling, incineration of residuals, no landfilling
  • In 2019, as part of its efforts to further reduce and recycle solid waste, staff were invited to give up the general waste bins in their offices and separate waste in central locations.  An initiative very well received by staff with a high participation rate
  • Replacement of hardcopy with on-line publications and official documents
  • Sustainable Procurement: Vendor and product sustainability are obligatory selection criteria; e.g., local transportation provider offsets all its emissions. UN Climate Change piloted HCLM-Procurement Network’s sustainable procurement project
  • 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, some meetings of constituted bodies, 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)
  • Economy class air travel compulsory for all trips of less than 11 hours’ duration
  • Regardless of travelling time, flights between UN Climate Change HQ and 12 major destinations are in economy class only, including New York, Washington, New Delhi, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Beijing
  • Maximum train and/or economy class travel of staff to conferences, training, etc., irrespective of duration of travel.  In 2019, all travel to Costa Rica for the pre-COP and Chile for COP 25 will be economy class only

Conference activities:

  • Standard provision on environmental sustainability in host country agreements for conferences
  • Systematic support to host countries in measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of UN Climate Change Conferences
  • Offsetting the remaining balance is standard practice for many host governments, including participants’ travel

General:

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

Offsetting

 

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 ca. 2,500 and 6,000 tons CO2eq per year. To offset this balance, it purchases and cancels Adaptation Fund CERs on an 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. 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 and reporting on waste.

Since 2019, many staff have volunteered to take their non-paper waste to separate containers placed in central locations, so bins for mixed waste in their offices could be abolished and the use of plastic bin-liners reduced.

The separated materials are then processed in recycling plants, while a residual portion is incinerated for power generation.  No waste goes into landfills.  Hazardous and special waste (toner, batteries) is collected and handled separately.  Written-off IT equipment is donated for reuse before recycling.
 

Water Management

 

The UN Climate Change secretariat follows the UN methodology for measuring and reporting on water consumption.  Water saving systems are installed in bathrooms.  Thanks to the location of the headquarters, outdoor areas are only exceptionally watered.

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 compensated 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 meeting, communication and collaboration tools to avoid travel; and further concentrating UN Climate Change meetings and workshops at the seat of the UN Climate Change secretariat to minimize travel by secretariat staff.

A second important opportunity is the new office building, which will accommodate over 300 staff.  It is still under construction, with completion scheduled for end-2020. The goal is to attain the Gold Certificate under “BNB”, the

German sustainable construction and building standard.

Thirdly, emphasis will remain on a systematic approach to reducing and offsetting emissions and environmental impact related to UN Climate Change Conferences and meetings, including 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 contributed to the development of the2020-2030 UN Environmental Management Strategyand will align its policies and EMS with it.

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.  One such initiative is the design of a Sustainable Events Tool to support event organizers globally to increase the sustainability of its meetings and conferences. TheNAZCA platform has recently been relaunched, which will certainly increase its reach.  Furthermore, the secretariat’s Global Climate Action team continues to engage non-State actors through additional initiatives such as Momentum for Change, Action for Climate Empowerment and the Marrakech Partnership.

 

Additional links


The Climate Neutral Now
initiative of the Climate Change secretariat: Learn how you can become climate neutral!

UNFCCC case studies