Pre-Paris – What is a COP?


November 28th, 2015

I will be heading to Paris tomorrow, and I thought it might be good to offer a little bit of background information on the question of “What’s a COP?”

COP stands for “Conference of the Parties”, with the Parties being the countries that belong to the United Nations.  The COP is first and foremost an event where national representatives work on crafting agreements – not only on emissions reductions but on other ancillary aspects like providing financial assistance to developing countries to help them with both emissions reductions and adaptation.

The meeting in Paris is COP-21, meaning it is the 21st COP in a series of such annual events.  But a COP is not the only gathering of the parties each year.  The hammering out of a climate agreement has actually been a continuous process, with representatives meeting several times a year to try to make progress that would set up an agreement to be reach at that year’s COP.  The key phrase in the months leading up to a COP, and during the COP, is “Text”, with the Text being the agreement that will (or will not) be signed off on.

Previous COPs have tried to focus on agreements that would result in commitments on emissions reductions for each country by a date certain, i.e. “targets and timetables”.  With that having not worked, the process leading up to COP-21 has instead focused on voluntary commitments.

COPs have another side to them, however.  Not all attendees are official representatives of the Parties.  Thousands of others attend, and their purpose generally falls into two categories.  The first is to try to influence the Parties on what positions they take on the Text as they negotiate with the other Parties.   The second is to accomplish educational and networking objectives with the other non-Party attendees.

From all of the invites to events that have been coming into my in-box over the past week, it looks like attendees will have a wealth of opportunities for learning, especially about what people in other parts of the world are doing in the same area they work in.  I am looking forward to see just how much is going elsewhere in terms of trying to use smart grid, DR, DER, etc. to achieve emissions reductions and an increase in resiliency.