Conference of the Parties

What is COP and what happens?

The Conference of the Parties (COP) acts as the supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC. All States that are Parties to the Convention are represented and decisions are reached by consensus. They review implementation of the Convention and any other legal instruments that COP has adopted.

Consensus decision making: This differs from the simple majority voting process. It means that no decision is made against the will of a Party. A solution must be found that each Party either actively supports or can accommodate. Consensus decision making is used because it shares power and helps to ensure the needs and opinions of each Party are considered equally in the process. There is a need to encourage ambitious targets. However, if significant concerns remain, any Party can block a decision from moving forward. This often results in the lowest common denominator determining the outcome of decisions.

Why is COP26 in Glasgow?

COP happens once a year, unless the Parties decide otherwise. The location and presidency rotates among regional groupings of countries who take it in turns to select a host. The UK and Italy won a joint bid to host the COP26 in Glasgow, with pre-COP talks in Milan. UK Government MP Alok Sharma has been appointed as President. The position of ‘COP Presidency’ is to be a neutral overseer of the agenda and tone for COP. However, the role as host also puts pressure on the UK to show climate leadership.

What is pre-COP?

It is a preparatory meeting that takes place one month before COP and allows for an informal setting for Parties and key stakeholders to discuss and exchange views on some political aspects of the negotiations. What are some of the key issues on the COP26 agenda?

Climate ambition: Parties are to submit new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) every five years. As it has been five years since the Paris Agreement entered into force, Parties will outline how much they intend to further reduce emissions. Each NDC submission should be more ambitious than the last; this is referred to as the ‘ratchet mechanism’.

The rules for carbon markets: This is a contentious agenda item that had to be brought forward from previous COPs. The rules will govern how emissions are traded between states and companies.

Nature-based Solutions (NbS): COP26 will begin discussions on how to integrate NbS into strategies for climate mitigation. It will focus on how ecosystems and agricultural practices provide climate solutions for absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Loss and damage mechanism: This would provide compensation when a Party cannot adapt to the impacts of climate change, resulting in the loss of land, livelihoods and associated cultures. Countries around the world are already experiencing these kinds of losses.

Who attends COP?

COP26 will be the biggest international conference the UK has ever hosted, with over 30,000 delegates expected to attend including heads of state, scientists and campaigners.

The Blue Zone: Only delegates from UN-accredited Parties, observer organisations and UN staff can access this secure area at the Scottish Events Campus, where the international negotiations and agreements take place. There is also a pavilion where countries and observer organisations will hold exhibitions, receptions and presentations.

The Blue Zone and Extraterritoriality: In the Blue Zone extraterritoriality applies; this is the state of being exempt from the jurisdiction of local law. The area will be controlled by United Nations Security and international law applies. A Memorandum of Understanding on Security Cooperation will be agreed upon, detailing specific responsibilities of the United Nations Security and the host state’s police force.

The Green Zone: Located at the Glasgow Science Centre, the Green Zone is a platform for other groups and members of the public to be heard. Organisations are required to apply for space, and those accepted will have their own ‘pavilion’, exhibition or event to show what they are doing about climate change or convey their climate message to the public. Managed by the UK Government, there is an official Green Zone programme which attracts lots of attention from those who can’t access the Blue Zone, particularly from the media.