What is COP all about?

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Since the mid-1990s, world governments gather almost every year to debate and decide on climate action, funding, and policies. Each of these formal meetings is known as a COP or conference of the parties, and is managed by the United Nations. Conference of the parties is a legal phrase for a meeting of countries that have signed up to an international treaty and in the case of climate change, this is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UNFCCC was the first international treaty to commit every country to work to “avoid dangerous climate change.” It finally came into effect in 1994, with the first COP held in Berlin in 1995.

For many years, decisions made at these COP climate meetings did not have a clear global goal. This changed at COP21 held in Paris in 2015, where it was agreed that global warming should be limited to well below 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and preferably at the safer limit of 1.5° Celsius.

In all these talks, governments are guided by reports and analysis completed by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). This is the United Nations body that brings together all the science research on climate change, climate impacts, and actions needed to remain within safe limits.

Wildfire Portugal Michael Held / Unsplash
Wildfires are just one of the climate impacts that are predicted to become more frequent as global average temperatures continue to rise.

To achieve these goals, countries set out targets known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). These initial targets were nowhere near enough to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius or even 2° Celsius.

So, built within the Paris Agreement is the idea of a global stocktake every five years. This means that all countries have to see what progress has been made and what still needs to be done.

COP28 in Dubai sees the first global stocktake and countries are expected to set new and more ambitious targets to keep the world on track in tackling climate change.

See the Climate and COP glossary for definitions of the highlighted words and more.