Behind the Scenes of UN Climate Conferences

 Behind the Scenes of UN Climate Conferences

We hear more and more about COPs, the United Nations Climate Conferences, the annual event where 196 countries discuss and negotiate issues related to the climate crisis. But what exactly is a COP? Who chooses the location where it will be held? We answer these and other frequently asked questions in the article below.

By Ilaria Bionda 

Translation: Daniele Savietto

For the past 12 years, Viração Educomunicação and its international counterpart, Associação Viração & Jangada, have been mobilizing groups to attend the UN Climate Conferences. 

Their aim is to participate in the event as observers and report on it through the Youth News Agency, covering both the happenings inside and outside the pavilions during this paramount global discussion on climate change. 

Many questions arise regarding these conferences, and, in an effort to provide a deeper understanding of their workings and organization, we have compiled some of these questions alongside others we received from schools. 

These inquiries emerged during training sessions held under the “My School at COP28” initiative, which unfolded during a live broadcast on Friday, November 10, 2023. 

The event involved the active participation of more than 3,500 students from 52 schools across 47 Italian cities and one French city. This article aims to provide insights into the behind-the-scenes aspects of this significant event.

What is a COP?

The acronym COP stands for Conference of the Parties, where “Parties” refers to the countries worldwide that convene annually to assess progress in addressing climate change. The COP is organized by the UNFCCC, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, serving as its highest decision-making body. In essence, during COPs, negotiations take place, and decisions are made to combat the climate crisis.

What happens at a COP?

During the UN Climate Conferences, the world’s attention is primarily focused on negotiations conducted by delegates sent by each country to present their specific objectives and requests. However, COPs encompass more than just negotiations. Parallel events occur within these conferences, addressing a wide range of issues related to environmental protection. These topics span from climate financing and the sustainability of the agri-food industry to ocean pollution and gender equality. These events can be organized by the UN, government delegations, or participating entities and are often held in pavilions (similar to a fair), where attendees can engage, hear firsthand accounts from diverse perspectives, and gain a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of global and local concerns.

Thousands of people from various backgrounds are welcomed within the COP. In addition to the delegates from different countries, there is a significant number of observers, including us from the Youth News Agency – representing non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations, as well as representatives from the media and the press. 

This means that what unfolds at the Conference is not solely the prerogative of world leaders and governments but also a reflection of ordinary individuals who observe, advocate, lobby, and, in our case, narrate the event’s story.

The COP venue is divided into the blue zone, the official United Nations area where all the activities we’ve discussed so far take place, and the green zone, open to the public and featuring events organized by civil society. Additionally, each day of the UN Climate Conference is dedicated to a specific theme and a predominant line of negotiations, alongside side events. Below, to provide you with an idea of the themes, here is the schedule for COP 28, scheduled to take place in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, 2023.

Who decides the location for COP?

The choice of the annual COP’s location is determined through a rotation system among the United Nations’ “Regional Groups.” These groups include the African Group, Asia-Pacific Group, Eastern European Group, Latin American and Caribbean Group, and Western European and Other States Group. Members of the designated group then gather to select the specific country to host the Conference. They assess the received proposals, taking into consideration the existing infrastructure and logistical services, which must be suitable for an event of this magnitude.

However, there are exceptional cases where, due to logistical reasons or security concerns – as was the case with Fiji in 2017, for instance – the COP is organized at the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn, Germany.

Why were the United Arab Emirates chosen for COP28 despite being one of the largest oil exporters?

The decision to hold COP28 in Dubai is primarily based on the fact that, in 2023, the United Nations Regional Group responsible for organizing it is the Asia-Pacific Group. Additionally, it depends on the candidate city meeting the established suitability criteria. It is also relevant to actively involve countries that, in simplified terms, have a significant connection to fossil fuels as key participants.

Who chooses the President of the COP?

The appointment of the President of the COP is made by the host country of the Conference. Typically, an experienced diplomat or Minister of the Environment is chosen, as the negotiations can be quite challenging to manage, given that they bring together different and even competing interests.

What has been the impact of COPs on the ecological transition?

It was during a COP that the most significant global climate pact was signed. The Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 during COP21 and outlines an action plan to limit global warming. Through this agreement, the importance of strengthening mitigation and adaptation mechanisms is emphasized, which are crucial to assist us in the ecological transition.

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