by Malek Romdhane
- What parts of the conference can you access?
First and foremost, check the negotiation, media and conference spaces your Conference of the Parties (COP) pass lets you access. Observer passes will enable you to access most of the negotiation spaces, press conferences, side events, and the pavilion spaces. Media passes may provide you with greater access to media spaces, press conferences and some of the largest halls.
- Each day make a daily agenda
Every morning, plan and organize the whole day ahead. You can check the conference schedule on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, the conference venue screens, or the specific mobile phone application developed for the individual Conference of the Parties (COP). When planning each day you will need to keep in mind that there are different agendas for the side events, pavilion sessions, and negotiations. These aspects of the COP may overlap so you have to decide what you want to observe the most.
Most negotiations, side events and pavilion sessions will start around 9am and will run until around 5 – 7pm. Note that Party discussions will continue beyond these times, but as an observer or media pass holder you will not have access to these spaces. There are also poster presentations that will be present in both the Blue and Green Zones of the conference that provide information on climate science, social policy and climate policy from a range of different organisations; these will change throughout the two weeks of the conference.
Most pavilion events last 1hr, side events last around 2hrs (often a panel of speakers and then time for questions and answers), and negotiation times can vary depending on the agenda. You can leave pavilion and side events at any time throughout if you want to try and make a different session or negotiation.
- Make time to eat!
Also plan in time for coffee breaks, lunch breaks, and refilling your water bottle! There are food and drink outlets within the conference spaces and these are often great places to chat to other observers and negotiators. At the end of the day’s pavilion and side events (usually around 6/7pm in the evening) drink and nibble receptions are often held – these are also a fantastic way of meeting other attendees to discuss the science and policies discussed and a way to network.
Note that some organisations also hold breakfast sessions, which are at the start of the day before negotiations start. The delegates from the organisation discuss previous day progress and what they aim to follow in terms of negotiations and side events for the day ahead. You may be able to tag along to one of these if you get chatting to different observers.
- Plan thoroughly otherwise the productivity of your COP journey may be impacted
You need to bear in mind that you can’t follow the whole COP schedule on your own – there are far too many negotiations and side events happening at the same time! You will need to prioritize agenda items that you want to follow beforehand. And in order to keep posted with the other updates you can check websites like: the UNFCCC media sites or ask other observers or negotiators to debrief you.
- Don’t feel shy to attend negotiations
As an observer, the side events can look attractive; you can ask questions while you cannot speak in the negotiation rooms. But remember you can have an active role in the negotiations provided you are attending with an observer badge. In that case, you can track your country delegation participation and send a report after the conference to your UNFCCC focal point on which important items were neglected by your national negotiators and how they can enhance their participation in the upcoming COP .
Attending negotiations will also bring you closer to understanding the global climate policies. Remember if you didn’t understand what the negotiation was about or its output you can ask any negotiator or observer who was in that room to explain to you the content and outcomes. People at COP are usually friendly and open to help.
- Network, network, and network
In my opinion networking is about unlocking powerful connections and intriguing undiscovered ideas. It is not only important to connect with people with the same interest but also to sustain those professional relationships/connections after the conference. From my networking experience that I have been honing through attending several events, creating meaningful conversations, common interest and follow up, I can recommend the following:
- Before the event, do background research about some important figures and when meeting them at the conference venue, go and initiate conversations with them.
- Approach speakers or negotiators, or attendees after an event, book a time for a meeting with them, make a schedule and feel free to ask them as many questions as you want.
- Initiate conversations with other attendees when you are changing a negotiation room or you are lost to find a hall. Actually, getting lost during the conference is already a great opportunity to initiate a conversation with any person. You already know what to ask.
- If you are still intimidated on how to open a conversation during a COP, you can start by introducing yourself, and asking the other person about his interest and what he is following during the COP.
- Social media is powerful; you can tweet about your participation before or during the event. You can also upload your photo on Instagram and report your attendance while using the COP26 hashtags and keeping your profile open. Those approaches seemed useful in the past, as some COP attendees were active on Twitter and Instagram.
- Lastly, most of the people at COP, if not all of them, have their own business cards, even the youngest ones. Therefore, maybe you should know that you need to prepare yours, if your school or university or work doesn’t provide you with one, before attending the conference. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate change crisis, I advise you to be creative and provide a digital business card, or maybe a QR code could do the affair.
7. Wear comfortable shoes
Attending a COP could be hectic for some people, especially if their journey starts early in the morning and goes on until the late evening and they need to pivot between rooms and halls throughout the day. And if they’re also staying in a place far from the conference venue and they need to walk for a couple of minutes every day to get to the train/bus station for two weeks, this could also negatively impact their general comfort. Wearing high-heels or tight/new shoes are not advised in those circumstances. We recommend you opt for comfortable shoes. References:
 UNFCCC, National Focal Point, Available at https://unfccc.int/process/parties-non-party-stakeholders/parties/national-focal-point (accessed on 10/08/21)