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Right now, leaders from across the globe are in Scotland for the world’s biggest climate conference — COP26.

The conference — also known as COP, short for Conference of the Parties — has brought the world together since 1995 to hammer out agreements to reduce global warming. This year, COP26 is taking place at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.

Policymakers, scientists, environmental activists, climate experts, and officials from the 197 member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are set to attend, but not everyone has a seat at the negotiating table.

Here’s a breakdown of who will be at COP26 and what power they have when it comes to UN climate negotiations.

What are party and non-party stakeholders?

The two groups of people attending COP26 are divided into party and non-party stakeholders. The 197 member countries will send delegates, who get badges that allow them access to the negotiation process, explained Matthew Hoffmann, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

While official delegates get party badges, non-party attendees get “observer” status. Those observers include environmental groups, universities, media, activists, and anyone who isn’t a government official. Observers, including Indigenous groups and ENGOs attending COP, can advocate for specific actions or lay out their concerns — but observers can't vote on proposed actions/resolutions.

What power do the party stakeholders have?

Party stakeholders are the ones who form the documents that come out of COP. Key climate commitments — such as the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5 C, and the Kyoto Protocol, another landmark pact promising to cut back on global greenhouse gas emissions — were formed during negotiations between parties.

What will policymakers, scientists, environmental activists, climate experts, and government officials do at #COP26? Here's a basic explainer of how the UN climate conference is structured. #ClimateCrisis #Glasgow

Those big documents are voted on by all member countries and need unanimous consensus to be passed. The negotiations are a big part of COP, and often aren’t public, said Hoffman, noting observers have no direct influence in drafting agreements.

“There's a series of informal discussions amongst various groupings of countries where they're working on strategies … and often what you can see in the UN negotiating events that observers are in are people discussing formally the results of what has happened in those closed-door sessions,” he said.

Equity has been a big concern for this year’s conference, with hundreds of environmental groups calling for its postponement due to COVID-19 vaccine inequity. In September, Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network, said organizations were worried lower-income countries might not even make it to the negotiating table.

“Our concern is that those countries most deeply affected by the climate crisis and those countries suffering from the lack of support by rich nations in providing vaccines will be left out of the talks and be conspicuous by their absence at COP26,” she said.

“There has always been an inherent power imbalance within the UN climate talks between rich and poor nations, and this is now compounded by the health crisis. Looking at the current timeline for COP26, it is difficult to imagine there can be fair participation from the Global South under safe conditions and it should therefore be postponed,” Essop said in a release at the time.

What is the agenda for COP26?

The first five days of the conference are reserved for party leaders to show what climate accomplishments they’ve made since the last COP, Shelley Inglis, a former law and policy adviser for the United Nations, writes for The Conversation.

“Once the heads of state depart, country delegations, often led by ministers of environment, engage in days of negotiations, events and exchanges to adopt their positions, make new pledges and join new initiatives,” writes Inglis.

“These interactions are based on months of prior discussions, policy papers and proposals prepared by groups of states, UN staff and other experts.”

The formal negotiations take place in the Blue Zone, which is a UN-managed space that only official delegates and accredited observers can access. In this zone, delegates have offices, organizations can host talks, and countries can put on exhibits and other events.

What about the Green Zone?

Over 100 exhibitors, 200 events, and 11 sponsors are expected to take over the Green Zone, located at the Glasgow Science Centre. The area is completely open to the public and will see action from “youth groups, civil society, academia, artists, business from across the U.K. and all over the world,” including “events, exhibitions, cultural performances, workshops and talks,” according to COP26’s official website.

What else happens at COP26?

Outside the Green Zone, there will also be protests and other climate-related events throughout the city. Although these events don’t affect the actual negotiations at COP26, they set the tone for the conference and are the spaces where the public gets to take stock of what’s important, said Hoffmann.

“It's a focal point for everyone (who's) interested in climate change,” he said.

“... It's an opportunity for activists and those interested in justice and equity to really shine a light on what individual countries are doing. And so it has an impact, or at least a potential impact, on how countries’ positions (on) climate action (are) going to evolve over time.”

Numerous protests are expected during COP26, with activists already calling out the conference for its inequity and the U.K. government for its investment in fossil fuels. At a pre-COP26 TED conference, Shell CEO Ben van Beurden was called out on stage by Lauren MacDonald, a young climate activist, before a walk-out and protest took place outside the event space.

“The state process is lagging behind in the discourses and arguments about justice and equity around climate change. And so I'm always looking at the COPs, especially the last couple, to see if that gap is going to narrow,” Hoffmann said.

“And I never have super high hopes for that, but I think that it will probably narrow more at this one than it did at the last one (in 2019). I've seen it narrowing over time — too slowly.”

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