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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    Unity refers to a common understanding of goals and strategies, aligned communication, and a clear distribution of roles. Multilateral negotiations take place under the auspices of an international organisation, often the United Nations (UN). As the UN deals with multiple issue areas, sub-organisations are sometimes created to house a secretariat that supports the negotiation process. In the case of climate change, responsibility for supporting the negotiations is delegated to the UNFCCC Secretariat.



    The international organisation and secretariat support the host government in managing the negotiation process. 

    • Effectiveness: When the international organisation and secretariat work as one with clearly defined positions and responsibilities, they are able to allocate time, staff, political leverage and expertise most effectively to the negotiations. 

    • Complementarity of roles: Activities of the international organisation and secretariat can play to their respective strengths and complement each other when roles are clearly distributed and uncontested.



    A lack of unity between the international organisation and the secretariat can undermine the team’s ability to support the host facilitation team and the negotiation process:

    • Loss of time and energy: Resolving issues between the international organisation and the secretariat wastes time and energy that could be better spent supporting the negotiations. Unclear or contested roles and responsibilities can lead to a duplication of labour.

    • Poor flows of information: If the international organisation and secretariat are not cooperating effectively, valuable information might not be communicated.

    • Power struggles: When roles and responsibilities are not clearly assigned from the beginning, power struggles can erupt, which are damaging for both organisations’ effectiveness and credibility.

    • Confusion: When roles are not clearly distributed, it can create confusion and mixed messages.



    The main barriers to the unity of an international organisation are:

    • Role confusion: When an international organisation is split into different sub-organisations (for example the UN headquarters and the UNFCCC Secretariat) there is a risk that their respective roles and decision-making responsibilities are not clearly defined or aligned, particularly when the sub-organisations are geographically remote. In turn, this can lead to duplication of efforts or conflicting approaches.

    • Organisational culture: A working culture within an international organisation that promotes competition over cooperation can stand in the way of a unified international organisation that assumes a coherent approach to supporting the negotiations.

    • High stakes: The stakes in multilateral negotiations are often high, and with this comes considerable publicity for key organisers. Rivalry for publicity can cause tension and disunity within an international organisation, particularly when there is role confusion and/or a competitive working culture.

    • Clashes of personality: As with any kind of organisation, friction can arise between different individuals or groups within an international organisation. Personality clashes, especially between senior management, can threaten the unity of an international organisation.


  • Best practices

    • Be sensitive to the importance of presenting a unified support team and speaking with one voice to negotiators, to the public, and especially to the host government, even if differences of opinion are present behind-the-scenes. Maintain open lines of communication to identify and resolve differences of opinion between different sections of the organisation.

    • In the run-up to the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, a divide emerged between the UN headquarters in New York and the UNFCCC Secretariat in Bonn, that mirrored the two competing factions of the Danish Presidency. The divergent approaches between the two organisations both exacerbated the conflict within the Danish Presidency, and inhibited the ability of the UN organisations to provide effective support to the Danes.

    • The UNFCCC under Christiana Figueres’s tenure as Executive Secretary is generally considered a model of best practice, yet differences of opinion are always present within large organisations. When divergences arose between the Bonn-based Secretariat and the UN headquarters in New York, Figueres would call the New York team to talk through their differences and settle on a unified approach.  

    • If the international organisation is divided between a central headquarters and issue-specific sub-organisations, the headquarters should support the sub-organisation where appropriate but not try to take over or duplicate its delegated tasks. This is particularly important when the stakes and level of publicity are high.

    • The UNFCCC Secretariat, led by Christiana Figueres, coordinated closely with the UN headquarters in New York in the run-up to the 2015 Paris summit and worked in harmony at different levels to ensure the most effective use of their comparative advantages and avoid duplication of efforts. The UNFCCC supported the French Presidency with the negotiation process, whereas the team of the UN Secretary-General operated at a higher-level to build momentum for the negotiations through initiatives such as the UNSG Climate Summit and the People’s March. 

    • Sources suggest that the UNFCCC under Yvo de Boer’s leadership in 2009 competed with the office of the UN Secretary-General for the publicity that came with the high-stakes summit instead of effectively aligning their roles. As a result, resources were duplicated and their respective roles were unclear. 

    • Considerable investment and commitment is required at the level of senior management to promote a collaborative organisational culture. There is no “quick fix” for unity of an international organisation. 

    • When she took over as UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres invested heavily in instilling a “one team” approach. Under her leadership, a strong and unified organisational culture developed in all levels of the Secretariat, which was one of the factors that allowed them to provide such effective support to the various Presidency teams that laid the foundations for the eventual adoption of the Paris Agreement.