The beating heart of climate action

Climate Tower, a new high-rise building in Bonn, is the headquarters of the UN Climate Secretariat. We explain what makes it so special.

Climate Tower in Bonn
Climate Tower in Bonn Thomas Kölsch

The first impression of the Climate Tower is that of a futuristic giant made of glass. A rather small giant, admittedly: though 65 metres is enough in Bonn for the building to rank among the ten highest in Germany’s former capital, the “Langer Eugen” next door – once housing the offices of members of the Bundestag (the country’s parliament) and home today to several United Nations (UN) organisations – is nearly twice as tall as the new headquarters of the UN Climate Secretariat. Compared with the skyscrapers at United Nations Plaza in New York, the tower, which was completed in February 2022, is hardly spectacular. Nonetheless, one’s gaze is invariably drawn up the glittering facade, which on fine days reflects the green of the Siebengebirge hills and the blue of the sky and the Rhine River.

The idyllic view from the floor-to-ceiling windows is one of the things that makes the Climate Tower special for many of the 400 or so UNFCCC employees in Bonn. Since May 2022, the office building has accommodated around 300 of them. Staff enjoy working in the Climate Tower, though not nearly all of the desks, especially in the open-plan offices, are occupied again yet due to the hybrid work model that has been in place since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. “We used to be spread across several buildings,” explains UNFCCC Programme Officer Megumi Endo, “and now at least we are within walking distance of one another.” This gives rise to more direct communication, can reduce bureaucracy at times and, above all, makes for better teamwork. “That is definitely an advantage, even if only for the numerous large and small conferences we host here in Bonn.”

Climate Tower in Bonn
Climate Tower in Bonn Thomas Kölsch

Furthermore, staff now have a clear view of what they are fighting for. And what they are fighting against. “When I look out of the window, it’s not only the beautiful Rhine that fascinates me,” says UNFCCC Spokesperson Alexander Saier during a stroll through the building, “it’s also the ships laden with coal that are constantly passing by, transporting precisely those natural resources that we really need to stop mining and burning if we are to protect our planet. It’s a sight that speaks volumes to me.”

It’s not only the view that makes the Climate Tower seem greener from the inside than from the outside. The architects who designed the 75 million euro structure were at pains to bring nature into the building: instead of corner offices, they created four winter gardens, each extending over two floors, that are full of plants – as is the atrium. “This, coupled with the strong colours of the carpet and some of the walls and cupboards, appears to bring the building to life,” says Grace Ann Smith, protocol and external relations assistant at the UNFCCC and one of the members of staff who have made their offices particularly cosy. “That’s really important to me considering that we spend a large part of our time here doing something we firmly believe is right. In my opinion, we can only really succeed in this if we also feel at home in the building.”

The UNFCCC, the largest UN secretariat, has been based in Bonn since 1996. To this day, this has proven an enormous success for the city, and in the view of former ambassador and UN adviser Harald Ganns is one of the key reasons why the United Nations will soon have no fewer than 27 secretariats here on the banks of the Rhine. “When the UN was scouting out possible locations in 1995, Bonn was able to beat even much bigger cities such as Geneva and Toronto,” he recalls. “That had considerable symbolic impact. I doubt that we could be such a self-confident and important UN city with a clear emphasis on sustainability if we had not been able to attract the climate secretariat to Bonn back in the day.” From its base in Bonn, the UN has been organising conferences such as the UN Climate Conferences (COP) around the world ever since, as well as analysing and verifying the climate change information and data submitted by the contractual parties.

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