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    A beginners guide to COP

    Frequently asked questions about COP and why you should get involved

    A beginners guide to COP
    13/03/2020 Steph Wetherell
    In Blog, News

    So you’ve heard that the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 is going to be in Glasgow this year, but what does that mean and why should you care? We’ve put together some simple Frequently Asked Questions about COP to help you get your head around what COP is and why you should get involved. 


    What is COP?

    COP stands for Conference of Parties, and is the annual meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) where nation states who have signed up to the UNFCCC come together to make agreements on ways to control carbon emissions in order to prevent dangerous impacts of climate change.  Because it is high level meeting, there is now an international social movement that puts pressure on the negotiations to call for stronger action on the climate crisis and demand climate justice.

    Why is COP important?

    We, as agroecological peasant farmers and landworkers, are a real solution to the climate crisis, and we must stand strong and in solidarity with each other and our allies. COP, for all its failings, is an important opportunity to do this, and to show agroecology and food sovereignty as positive solutions to the climate crisis. We want to call out and challenge some of the proposals put forward by governments and corporations at COP – such as carbon capture and storage, land-grabbing for biofuels, GMO seeds, land sparing etc – which are not real solutions to the climate crisis.  COP won’t solve some of the challenges that our movement faces, but it is a forum where people from around the world can gather to build solidarity and a radical social movement for climate justice.  We’ll be hosting Via Campesina members from around the world and it will be an important opportunity for us to hear and support their struggles, and build on our international solidarity work with peasant farmers worldwide.  

    Why was COP started?

    The first COP was in 1995. One of the most well known COP conference was COP21 in Paris, 2015, where the Paris Agreement was made.  The Paris Agreement set a target of keeping global warming below 1.5°C relative to preindustrial levels, and created a system where countries say how they would achieve this from 2020 onwards in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which will then be reviewed every 5 years.  COP26 will be the first time all NDCs will be published and debated.  COP has been going for a long time now, and yet we aren’t seeing effective changes that are drastically needed to reduce emissions.  We must challenge it as a mechanism, call it out for its failures and look push for more action nationally and internationally.  

    When and where is COP26?

    COP26 will be held in Glasgow from 9th-19th November 2020 and the official conference is held at the SEC in Glasgow city centre.  COP is supposed to rotate across continents each year.  However, it doesn’t always work out like that, and for the fifth out of six years the COP is being hosted in Europe.  This is significant as the host nation has diplomatic power in shaping the agenda of the COP.  By concentrating hosting in Europe, countries and people that are at the forefront of experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis have a harder time making their voices heard in the run up to and during the negotiations.  There are likely to be COP related events that happen globally running in parallel with Glasgow.

    Who goes to COP?

    The official conference is attended by state representatives from all countries that have signed up to UNFCCC, and other organisations can attend as observers or on behalf of the media.  About 30,000 delegates go to the official conference, so it’s pretty big. Large corporate interests attend and do have significant influence on decisions – there is a lot of corporate sponsorship. This is obviously extremely problematic and in part is why COP has not been effective in dealing with the climate crisis.  We must call out the corporate influence on COP.  Via Campesina has observer badges and so is able to attend the official conference and participate in side events, and this year we plan to use this opportunity to call out corporate interest and highlight Agroecology and Food Sovereignty as real and positive solutions to the climate crisis.

    Outside of the official conference, civil society spaces are created which are open to anyone.  Many people come to help run and participate in civil society events – it was estimated that 500,000 people attended the mass mobilisation in Madrid at COP25 last year, with a sister march happening in Chile at the same time. There are a lot of plans underway for civil society participation at COP26 and we’re expecting it will be a strong mobilisation of people.

    What happens at COP?

    The official conference at the SEC is often called the ‘Blue Zone’, which you need an official badge to enter.  This is where lots of official negotiations take place, as well as side events, debates, press conferences etc.  LVC hope to be involved in panel debates and activities happening in the official conference. There is also usually an official public arena, known as the ‘Green Zone’ which anyone can attend – you pick up a badge on the day.  As this is organised by the UK Government it will have a big mix of interests involved in running events there, including a lot of greenwash.  As the COP is hosted by the UK government but held in Scotland, the Scottish Government are also currently planning to have their own events space, though there have been political disagreements between UK and Scottish Government about where this should be and how much involvement Scottish Government should have in the COP.

    At present the COP26 Coalition, which is one of the main civil society coalitions, is organising venues and spaces for civil society to run their own parallel summit.  If you’re interested in finding out more about the COP26 Coalition this is the website and there are several working groups focusing on different areas of work to bring together a People’s Summit, mobilisations and much much more.  The Coalition are currently making a website which will be a useful hub for information on events, accommodation, etc etc.  There will be at least one major mobilisation during COP26 where it would be brilliant to have a large LWA presence.  The date for this is still being decided. 

    Can COP change anything?

    This is a difficult question, and for many the answer is no.  COP has largely been captured by corporate interests and it’s doubtful that it can be effective in leading the way in dealing with the climate crisis.  But, as we’ve seen with the recent ruling against Heathrow expansion on the grounds that it was not consistent with the UNFCCC Paris Agreement which the UK government has signed up to, there is the potential for agreements that come out of COP to have a significant impact.  This ruling is not just a result of COP negotiations though, and has come about from long-term campaigns and dedicated hard work from civil society.

    COP is potentially a useful tool for civil society to push governments and corporations to take stronger action on the climate crisis. BUT, we can’t pin our hopes on COP alone to achieve the radical and urgent changes that we need to make to respond to the climate crisis.  COP in itself may create some opportunities for change, but not without effective pressure and long-term dedication and coordinated work from civil society, and because of this we must think bigger and beyond the COP.

    COP is also changing things at a civil society level.  Already in the UK many more people are talking about the climate crisis, and many organisations are coming together to work on campaigns and civil society actions as a result of COP being held in the UK.  COP is an opportunity for civil society to build new relationships, strengthen existing ones, and build on our power to create radical change and positive solutions at the grassroots level. This is already happening, and it’s exciting to see how this will pan out over the next 9 months in the run up to COP.

    Why is COP important to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this and the things you’d like to see happen, if you have an idea or would like support to get involved please contact

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