What is the UNFCCC Secretariat? (Updated)

Updated November 2023

Article 8 in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) document (1992) established the formation and roles of the Climate Change (CC) Secretariat [1]. The CC Secretariat serves the Conference of the Parties (COP), the subsidiary bodies (SBs), the Bureau and other bodies established by the COP.

Where is the UNFCCC Secretariat located?

The secretariat was established in 1992 and was initially located in Geneva, Switzerland. It moved to Bonn, Germany in 1996 after COP1 [2].  

Who works at the Secretariat?

There are around 450 staff members from over 100 different countries who work for the UN Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn [2]. 

The head of the secretariat is known as the Executive Secretary and is appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations [2]. The Secretariat is accountable, through the Executive Secretary, to the COP. The length of time an individual can remain in this role is not fixed. Since 2022, the position has been held by Mr. Simon Stiell of Grenada [3]. Previously, Ms. Patricia Espinosa was Executive Secretary for 4 years and before her Ms. Christiana Figueres held the position for 6 years [3].  Every two years, the Executive Secretary proposes a programme budget, which outlines the main tasks to be carried out by the Secretariat. 

The Secretariat underwent a structural change in 2020 to better deliver on its mandates and to be more agile in responding to changing realities [4]. The Secretariat structure can now be split into several divisions: adaptation, means of implementation, mitigation, transparency, legal affairs, administrative services, information and communication, conference affairs, communication and engagement, and intergovernmental support and collective progress [4].

The mandate of the Secretariat

The mandate of the Secretariat is outlined in Article 8 of the Convention [1]. The functions of the Secretariat are listed as [1]:

  1. To make practical arrangements for sessions of the Convention bodies, namely the COP and its SBs
  2. To compile and transmit reports submitted to it, to prepare reports on its activities and present the work at COP
  3. To assist Parties, in particular developing countries, in implementing their commitments
  4. To provide support to negotiations
  5. To coordinate with the secretariats of other relevant international bodies, notably the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and its implementing agencies (United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank), the IPCC and other relevant conventions.

What specific tasks does the UNFCCC Secretariat do?

The overall aim of the Secretariat is to stabilise greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere to a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, as defined by the Framework Convention [1]. This means that the Secretariat must work with all stakeholders to develop climate action and build resilience. Specific tasks include [2]:

  1. Organise and support between two and four negotiation sessions each year, namely, but not limited to the Conference of the Parties (COP) held annually at different locations across the globe, and subsidiary bodies
  2. Draft the provisional agenda for each COP with the President of the COP and share with all Parties at least six weeks before the COP takes place. 
  3. Implement the Paris Agreement by providing technical expertise and analysis of climate crisis information to governments and institutions
  4. Maintain the registry for the Nationally Determined Contributions established under the Paris Agreement. 
  5. Support the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action to increase the collaboration of non-Party stakeholders with governments to lower emissions and increase resilience against climate impacts (and implement the Paris Agreement) [5]. 
  6. Organise regional Climate Weeks to drive the implementation of the Paris Agreement at a regional level and increase the number of climate action partnerships. 
  7. Maintain a social media presence to inform stakeholders of climate action and the negotiating process.


[1] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Available at https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/conveng.pdf, (accessed 10/01/21)
[2] UNFCCC, About the Secretariat. Available at https://unfccc.int/about-us/about-the-secretariat, (accessed 10/01/21)
[3] UNFCCC, Executive Secretary. Available at https://unfccc.int/about-us/the-executive-secretary, (accessed 17/11/21)
[4] UNFCCC, UN Climate Change Secretariat Has New Organizational Structure, (2020). Available at https://unfccc.int/news/un-climate-change-secretariat-has-new-organizational-structure,  (accessed 10/01/21)
[5] UNFCCC, Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action. Available at https://unfccc.int/climate-action/marrakech-partnership-for-global-climate-action, (accessed 10/01/21)
Categories COP26/COP28/Key Terms and Agreements

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