United Nations COP Meetings

What is a COP?

A Conference of the Parties (COP) is the governing body of an international convention, in this case, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

The UNFCCC established an international environmental treaty to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system,” in part by stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.  The UNFCCC was signed by 154 nations at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and entered into force in 1994.  Subsequently, the COP has met annually to assess progress toward the treaty’s climate change goals. 

The United Nations COP meetings are a chance for representatives from almost every country in the world to work together to get climate change under control. They are also a time for activism and bringing attention to the climate crisis.


Negotiators at COP27. Photo: UNclimatechange (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via Flickr

The first implementation of measures under the UNFCCC was the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, followed by the Paris Agreement in 2015.  The Paris Agreement seeks to enhance the implementation of the UNFCCC by:

  1. Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue 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;

  2. Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;

  3. Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

Logo for United Nations COP28 meeting

Image: US Agency for International Development (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed license) via Flickr


COP28 was the 2023 United Nations climate change conference, held November 30 - December 12, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Leading up to the conference

In advance of the conference, the United Nations highlighted the expected major points of discussion (source: UNFCCC, "About COP28" )

  • "Hammering out the details of the loss and damage finance facility to help vulnerable communities deal with immediate climate impacts"
  • "Driving towards a global goal on finance that would help fund developing countries’ efforts in addressing climate change"
  • "Accelerating both an energy and a just transition; closing the massive emissions gap"
  • Conclusion of the "first-ever global stocktake...The global stocktake is a process for countries and stakeholders to see where they’re collectively making progress towards meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement – and where they’re not. The global stocktake has showed us we are not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The window for meaningful change is closing, and the time to act is now."

Phasing out fossil fuels?

Near the end of the conference, news reports focused on contention over whether countries would agree to language committing to phasing out use of fossil fuels. In the end, the parties agreed instead to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.” [UNFCCC, accessed Dec. 13, 2023]

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell said “Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end.” [UNFCCC press release, accessed Dec. 13, 2023]



COP27 was the 2022 United Nations climate change conference, held November 6-18, 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

The major theme of COP27 was loss and damages. By the end of the conference, parties had negotiated an agreement to establish a fund for wealthier nations to help less affluent nations. The details of the fund are to be worked out in the future: who will contribute, who will receive funds, and how funds will be spent.


  • Learn more about positive outcomes from COP27 in this newsletter from The Climate Optimist (published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment). A few excerpts:

    • “Brazil’s new president promised to save the Amazon and formed an alliance with nations that are home to the largest rainforests to prevent deforestation.”

    • “Indonesia received $20B to ditch coal”.

    • “Mexico vowed to make renewable energy faster than the U.S.—the best kind of fightin’ words!”

    • “The EU will phase out gas cars by 2035 and will fast-track their green energy transition.”


      Read more here.

  • Learn more details about COP27 themes, events, and outcomes through the lens of Cornell University faculty and students who attended the conference in Cornell at the COP27 Climate Conference (Cornell University)


COP26 was the 2021 United Nations climate change conference, held November 1-12, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. 

The Paris Agreement also set a 5-year timeline for countries to reconvene and increase the ambition of their climate goals (termed Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs). COP26 was the forum for that 5-year review. More than 100 world leaders – including US President Joe Biden and Queen Elizabeth II, representing the UK – along with ~20,000 negotiators, government representatives, business leaders and citizens participated in COP26.

The UK held the presidency of COP26 and set the following goals:

1. Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach

  • accelerate the phase-out of coal
  • curtail deforestation
  • speed up the switch to electric vehicles
  • encourage investment in renewables.

2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

  • protect and restore ecosystems
  • build defenses, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives

3. Mobilize finance

  • International governments and financial institutions must mobilize trillions in private and public sector finance

4. Work together to deliver

  • finalize the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational)
  • accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.


Xiye Bastida, a Mexican-Chilean climate activist and member of the indigenous Mexican Otomi-Toltec nation, speaking at COP26. Photo: Alan Harvey/ UK Government (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr

Climate activists referred to COP26 as the last, best chance to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.


Banner photos by World Meteorological Organization (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr (left photo, right photo)