Preparing the ground
Key organisers and facilitators
Informal dialogues
Non-party stakeholders
Convergence strategies
Host-secretariat partnershipUnity of international organisation & secretariatUnity of host team

  • General outline

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    Partnership refers to cooperation and good working relationships between the host government and the secretariat. While the host government has final responsibility for the process, the two teams depend on each other for their optimal functioning and effective management of the negotiation process.


    A good partnership between the host government and the secretariat delivers the following benefits:

    • Fill the knowledge gap: Host governments typically occupy the role for a limited period of time, while simultaneously holding parallel positions in their home country. The secretariat’s permanent nature endows them with expertise and experience in the negotiation process that can fill the knowledge gap and provide valuable input for a host government.

    • Positive working dynamic: A close and effective working relationship between the two teams adds to a positive dynamic that is more conducive to the reaching of agreement. 

    • Procedural and substantive support: Secretariats can provide host facilitation teams with support and advice on both procedural organisation (for example, planning and logistics and how to navigate the rules of procedure) and substantive input (for example, drafting text and suggesting compromise proposals).

    A lack of partnership between the host government and secretariat runs the following risks: 

    • Reduced effectiveness: When the two teams are not aligned, neither will be able to perform their role to its fullest potential and the overall effectiveness of the process will be compromised.

    • Negative working dynamic: Clashes between individuals or between the two teams can sour the negotiation dynamics, making agreement less likely.



    Barriers that prevent an effective partnership include:

    • Disagreements and rivalry: The two teams may disagree over the correct way forwards. Clashes or rivalries may result from differences between individual personalities, or out of competition for the publicity that comes with the negotiations.

    • Communication channels: Poor communication between the host government and the secretariat or a lack of effective procedures can inhibit a successful working relationship and the flow of important information.

    • Role confusion: the secretariat may overstep its advisory role and take over the host government’s leadership role.


  • Best practices

    • Each side should understand their respective role and place in the negotiation process. A host government is typically selected from amongst the parties and wields political authority that allows it to proactively manage the negotiation process. However, it lacks the experience and expertise of the secretariat. The secretariat possesses intellectual capital that can be used to guide the negotiation process, yet it is subservient to the will of the parties and unable to take proactive action. The secretariat carries the load of the host government’s work, and by assuming responsibility for the secretariat’s work, the host government ensures legitimacy in the eyes of the negotiating parties.


    • Successful cooperation depends first and foremost on mutual trust, which is created when each side demonstrates respect. The secretariat must respect the political leadership of the host government, and the host government benefits from recognising the experience and institutional expertise of the secretariat.

    • During the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol Chairman Raul Estrada enjoyed a positive working relationship with the head of the UNFCCC Secretariat Michael Zammit-Cutajar that played to their mutual strengths. The two communicated regularly and supported each other. The Secretariat provided expert knowledge on parties’ positions and suggested figures that appeared in draft texts. Estrada claimed responsibility for the Secretariat’s draft texts and ensured their legitimacy in the eyes of the parties when the Secretariat was accused of overstepping its mandate.  

    • The secretariat serves the facilitation team, who take the final decisions on how to manage the process. The secretariat should therefore keep a low profile and stay out of the spotlight in order to give the facilitation team a clear and uncontested political lead. Although clashes between individual personalities can be impossible to avoid, previous research suggests that more positive working relationships can flourish when the leaders of the host government and the international secretariat come from similar cultural backgrounds.

    • Research indicates that personal clashes took place between the Danish Presidency and the UNFCCC Secretariat. Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer was outspoken in his opinions and attempted to influence the process, and COP President Rasmussen sidelined the Secretariat and its advice. The two competed for control and publicity. The lack of communication between the two teams restricted the flow of valuable information to the Presidency. The Danish Presidency may have fared better had they heeded the advice given by the Secretariat. 

    • COP President Patricia Espinosa and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres benefitted from a close cultural understanding as Latin Americans. Figueres remained out of the spotlight and gave a clear lead to Espinosa. The absence of tensions both saved time and improved the flow of information and expertise. The instructions provided by the Secretariat to Espinosa before the final plenary were critical in ensuring a positive outcome. 

    • Establish communication channels and procedures to ensure regular consultation between the two teams and effective information flows. These could include regular coordination meetings or designating a specific point of contact to liaise between the two teams. Clearly mark out procedures for managing the division of labour between the two teams, to make the most efficient use of available resources and avoid duplication of efforts.

    • The French presidency that oversaw the adoption of the Paris Agreement put in place a number of procedures to ensure an effective cooperation between themselves and the UNFCCC Secretariat. They followed the example of the Mexican Presidency of the 2010 climate negotiations in appointing a liaison officer from their team with a desk at the Secretariat. During the six months leading up to the summit the liaison officer ensured a steady flow of information and a stable point of contact between the two teams. During the Paris summit itself, the liaison officer contributed to a close collaboration between the presidency’s and the Secretariat’s drafting teams to leverage their combined abilities in crafting the wording of the Paris Agreement. After Paris, presidencies including the Moroccan Presidency in 2016 have continued to implement this practice.