A panoramic view of the Antarctic coastline and sea with sea ice on the surface.

What is COP?

COP is the name given to the United Nations Climate Change Conferences. The goal of these conferences is to review progress made by members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to limit climate change.

What is COP and what happens there?

There are a lot of different names and organisations involved in COP. So, to help understand what it is and who attends, here are some of the main ones to remember.

COP (Conference of the Parties)

COP is the main decision-making body of the UNFCCC. It includes representatives of all the countries that are signatories (or ‘Parties’) to the UNFCCC. COP assesses the effects of measures introduced by the Parties to limit climate change against the overall goal of the UNFCCC.

UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)

The UNFCCC is an agreement between 197 countries of the United Nations. The agreement is to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system.”

CMP (Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol)

The CMP meeting happens at the same time as COP and includes the 192 countries that are party to the Kyoto Protocol. This treaty commits its signatories to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions according to individual targets. The agreements under the Kyoto Protocol are legally binding, whereas UNFCCC agreements are voluntary.

CMA (Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement)

The CMA meeting also takes place at COP and includes the 196 countries that are party to the Paris Agreement. In 2015, these countries adopted the Paris Agreement and its goal to limit warming to 2°C (and, preferably, 1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels.

How often does COP take place?

COP happens every year, unless otherwise agreed by the parties. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 COP was postponed until 2021.

This was the 26th edition of COP, or COP26, as well as the 16th CMP meeting and the 3rd CMA meeting. COP26 was hosted by the UK in Glasgow, from 1 to 12 November 2021.

COP27 took place from 7-18 November 2022 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. 

What happens at COP?

COP meetings primarily revolve around negotiations and debates. The aim is to review progress towards the overall goal of the UNFCCC: to limit climate change.

Sometimes, COP will result in new agreements and treaties, often with the goal of refining targets, agreeing rules or forming binding treaties, like the Kyoto Protocol.

A key part of COP meetings is to review the contributions of each of the Parties, detailing how they are tackling climate change. Members who are also party to the Paris Agreement will submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). These are plans by each country to reduce their emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Taken together, these actions will determine whether we meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Why did the UK host COP26?

The UK hosted COP26 following the approval of a joint bid between the UK and Italy. The UK hosted the main conference in Glasgow, while Italy will organised a range of pre-COP sessions and events in Milan. The UK continued to hold the COP26 presidency until COP27. 

Who goes to COP?

The attendees at COP are representatives of governments or ‘observer’ organisations, like charities. The United Nations manages all attendees at COP.

The 197 Parties to the UNFCCC are broadly organised in five regional groups:

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Eastern Europe
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Western Europe and Other States (including Australia, Canada and the USA)

The COP presidency and host of the next COP meeting usually rotate between these groups. These regional groups are also represented on the UNFCCC Bureau, which acts in an advisory role to the current COP President.

Various other groupings of parties, such as ones representing Arab States, the European Union and Small Island states, also exist within the UNFCCC. These groups may meet to agree on their negotiating positions and common interests.

Previous COP meetings have set records for the largest gatherings of world leaders in history. 

How to find out more about COP26

You can find out more information on COP26 from many sources: