The annual UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) brings together countries, civil society, companies and people on the frontline of climate change to accelerate action on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The 197 nations and territories – called Parties – that have signed on to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are responsible for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the UNFCCC with the objective to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".

The UNFCCC is the parent agreement to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set binding emission reduction targets for 36 industrialized countries and the European Union. The UNFCCC is also the parent to the 2015 Paris Agreement which calls for action from all signatory countries. The UNFCCC website is the official source of information for the climate treaty regime. A plain language summary of the climate treaty regime is available on the Government of Canada's Global Affairs website.

COP summits are considered a milestone event each year in climate negotiations, where Parties are required to submit their updated plans to reduce emissions to meet the Paris Agreement and to complete negotiations that were left unresolved from previous negotiations.

The Paris Agreement and NDCs

The Paris Agreement was signed at COP21 in 2015 and is a legally binding international treaty on climate change with the ambitious breakthrough goal of "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change."

To achieve this goal, each Party must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible; targets for cutting emissions are called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Emission reduction goals are undertaken on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, with less-economically-developed Parties having a longer horizon to reduce emissions. 

Parties have also agreed to focus on adaptation to the impacts of climate change and to foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, and to work towards aligning finance flows with low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

In April 2021, Canada announced a target of a 40-45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. Background on Canada's previous NDC is here.

What happens at a COP?

At the annual meeting, the Parties review and make decisions to promote effective implementation of the UNFCCC. A key task for the COP is to review the national communications and emission inventories submitted by Parties.

Each COP event is divided into two physical spaces or zones: the Blue Zone and the Green Zone.

The Blue Zone is a UN-managed space where the official negotiation proceedings take place. All delegates within the Blue Zone must be accredited by the UNFCCC. As an accredited observer, UBC receives a number of badges for access to the Blue Zone. UBC's delegates are allowed to be actively involved in this space, including attending sessions and sharing their expertise, knowledge, and perspectives with participants, including Party delegates. The Blue Zone is also host to panel discussions, side events, exhibits, and cultural events.

The Green Zone is managed by the host country and is home to dozens of pavilions, presentation spaces, and more. UN accreditation isn’t required to participate in this space and some COPs have a Green Zone that is entirely open to the public, while others require some form of registration.

There are also typically a wide variety of unofficial side events that take place throughout the city where the COP is held.


Image courtesy of Dua Naqvi