What is a COP Side Event?

by Vincent Diringer

Accompanying every Conference of the Parties (COP) are side events and exhibits that add to the overall summit experience. The official side events hosted within the conference are usually held by admitted observer organisations and act as a platform for them to network, share knowledge, and discuss key talking points with other stakeholders. Held within the Blue and Green Zones that form the COP campus, these events fall under the purview of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and the COP organisers [1, 2].

Each event lasts between an hour and an hour and a half [3]. There are hundreds of these side events and pavilions available throughout the two-week conference, and to make them easier to identify they are colour-coded in the schedule based on their focus. Following on from COP21, side events now follow a common theme, ‘Accelerating implementation of the Paris Agreement’, and can be grouped in three categories: enhancing ambition; promoting implementation; or, providing support to developing countries [4]. 

Through this prism, side events are able to discuss and present the myriad of challenges facing global communities and the sustainable solutions available. This is best exemplified by some of the side-events held at the previous climate conference, COP25, which included topics such as:

  • Nature-based adaptation to climate change in cities;
  • Climate Justice and Law in a Climate Emergency;
  • Global South women and young feminist meet the climate crisis: alternatives, solutions and narrative;
  • Mobilising Investment for Off-Grid Energy Solutions in African Countries;
  • Climate resilient transport infrastructure for sustainable trade, tourism and development in SIDS (Small Island Developing States); and
  • Forest-based solutions in the tropics for combating climate change and achieving the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) [5].

On top of drawing from case studies and topics from around the world, certain events are featured in different languages and are available to online participants. In some cases, side events are recorded and uploaded to the UNFCCC archives [1, 5]. From keynote talks to panels and Q&A sessions, the formats for side events are variable and depend on how the observer organisation intends to structure their event [3, 6]. 

As the host-nation changes every year, the physical layout of each COP has some variations, but there is always a set number of slots available for side events and exhibits in the Green and Blue Zone [1, 2]. In the case of the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow, on top of the normal event and exhibition areas on offer there are options to use an IMAX (image maximum) theatre, a planetarium, and well-being spaces in the Blue and Green Zones [3]. Interested parties have been asked to submit a detailed proposal of the event they plan on hosting and how they would use the space they are applying for. 

While the side event criteria must fall into the aforementioned categories, exhibits have a different set of specifications [2]. Multiple exhibition spaces are available to showcase technology, creative installations, art, cultural performances and any other ways of promoting climate action. The time slots available for exhibitors range from two days to two weeks, and they are expected to embrace sustainable behaviour throughout, such as avoiding distributing printed publications or single-use items. These spaces like those available for side events are provided free of charge with a basic support package for successful applicants [1, 2, 3]. 

Apart from the official side events present in the Green and Blue Zones, delegations and organisations sometimes host their own events related to climate change outside of the campus. The City of Glasgow, action groups and youth organisations are all planning their own events throughout the two-week conference and information regarding these will become available closer to the start of COP – as will the official side event schedule.


[1] UNFCCC, Side Event Organizer’s Handbook: COP25. Available at https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/COP%2025%20side%20events%20handbook%20.pdf, (accessed 17/02/21) 
[2] UNFCCC, Exhibitors Handbook: COP25. Available at https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/COP%2025%20exhibits%20handbook.pdf,  (accessed 17/02/21) 
[3] UK Cabinet Office, COP26 – How To Get Involved. Available at https://ukcop26.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Stakeholder-involvement-at-COP26-packV1.pdf, (accessed 17/02/21) 
[4] UNFCCC, Side events and exhibits at COP25. Available at https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/conferences/un-climate-change-conference-december-2019/events/side-events-and-exhibits-at-cop-25, (accessed 17/02/21) 
[5] UNFCCC, Side events/exhibits archive. Available at https://seors.unfccc.int/applications/seors/reports/archive.html, (accessed 17/02/21) 
[6] UNFCCC, COP 21 side events and exhibits one-stop shop. Available at https://unfccc.int/process/conferences/pastconferences/paris-climate-change-conference-november-2015/events-and-programme/Side-events-and-Exhibits, (accessed 17/02/21)
Categories COP26

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