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Conference Essentials
Delegates at Bonn session

United Nations climate change conferences have grown over the past two decades into the largest annual conferences currently held under the auspices of the United Nations. The intergovernmental negotiations have likewise become increasingly complex and involve an ever-increasing number of officials from governments all over the world, at all levels, as well as huge numbers of representatives from civil society and the global news media.

The size and complexity of the conferences can be intimidating at first. This page therefore seeks to assist newcomers by providing essential information on the operation of the sessions and a guide to the key information sources on the UNFCCC website.

Newcomers should also consult the UNFCCC Interactive Guide, Chapter 10, which provides an overview of the operation of the negotiating sessions, along with a detailed infographic and extensive resource guide.

Participants: Who attends the sessions?
The annual conferences now include thousands of participants from the following groups:

Parties to the Convention and Kyoto Protocol, Observer States
Each Party to the Convention is represented at sessions of the Convention bodies by a national delegation consisting of one or more officials who are empowered to represent and negotiate on behalf of their government. The webpage for Parties contains further detailed information.

Intergovernmental Organizations
Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) participate as observers. Some of them have regularly provided statements to the COP and CMP or contributed in other ways to the Convention process. Among these are the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and development banks. The webpage for IGOs contains further detailed information.

UN & Specialized Agencies
United Nations bodies and agencies that regularly attend sessions of the Convention bodies include, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the United Nations University (UNU). Secretariats of other environment-related conventions also regularly attend the sessions. The webpage for UN bodies contains further detailed information.

Non-Governmental Organizations
Civil society contributes through non-governmental observer organizations (NGOs) with nine constituencies: Business and industry NGOs (BINGOs), Environmental NGOs (ENGOs), Indigenous peoples organizations (IPO), Local government and municipal authorities (LGMAs), Research and independent NGOs (RINGOs), Trade union NGOs (TUNGOs), Farmers NGOs (Farmers), Women and gender NGOs (Women and Gender), and youth NGOs (YOUNGOs). The webpage for observer organizations contains further detailed information.

Press and Media
Local, regional and international media ensure a wide range of media coverage through news stories, press conferences, exclusive interviews and media tours. The press webpage contains further information.

UNFCCC negotiating bodies
During the conference, the negotiations are held under the following bodies, each with its own mandate and formal agenda.

Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP)
The COP is the supreme decision-making body for the UNFCCC. All Parties to the UNFCCC are part of the COP.

Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP)

The CMP is the supreme decision-making body for the Kyoto Protocol. Countries that are not Parties to the Kyoto Protocol can participate only as observers in the CMP.

Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA)
SBSTA is a permanent subsidiary body, established under UNFCCC Article 9. It serves both the COP and the CMP (in accordance with Kyoto Protocol Article 15).

Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI)
SBI is a permanent subsidiary body, established under UNFCCC Article 10. It serves both the COP and the CMP (in accordance with Kyoto Protocol Article 15).

Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP)
Negotiations for a new global agreement are taking place in the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

The UNFCCC website outlines all bodies, including negotiating bodies, constituted bodies and specialized committees.

Key Negotiating Forums
Within each of the bodies, the negotiations take place in various forums. The forum depends on whether the debates are formal or informal and who is allowed to participate.

The plenary meetings of the COP, CMP and the subsidiary bodies are the formal forums for discussion and decision-making by Parties to the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol. Plenary meetings are open to participation by all Parties, observer States and organizations, the media and other participants registered for the climate change sessions.

Contact Group
They are established by the COP, CMP or subsidiary bodies to conduct negotiations on specific agenda items, with the aim of achieving an agreed outcome, Contact groups are open to participation by all Parties and typically open to observer organizations (See decision 4/CP.18).

Informal Consultations
The President or Chair of a subsidiary body or contact group convenes informal consultations. Typically, the President or Chair invites a delegate to undertake the consultations on a particular issue. Informal consultations are advertised to ensure transparency. Previously, they were closed to observer organizations. Currently, if there is no contact group for an agenda item, at least the first and last meetings of the informal consultations may be open to observer organizations (see FCCC/SBI/2011/7, paragraph 167).

Informal Informals Also referred to as drafting groups or spin-off groups, these meetings have been used to advance negotiations on sensitive issues, e.g. to draft a specific section of text or resolve a specific problem. The presiding officer may request a delegate to facilitate such meetings, which may be open-ended or limited to only those delegates invited to participate.

Consultations by presiding officers
At previous conferences, presiding officers have convened informal meetings, often with ministers, to advance negotiations on particularly difficult and politically sensitive issues. A limited number of Parties were invited to participate in these closed meetings, usually chaired by the presiding officer. To promote the principles of openness, transparency and inclusiveness, presiding officers now engage in ministerial outreach to make progress on outstanding issues but do not establish a separate negotiating group.

Leadership, Supporting Bodies and Rules
The negotiations are led and supported by different individuals or bodies, and operate under a specific rules and practices.

The official of a member government is elected by the Parties to preside over the COP and CMP sessions. The President is often a senior official from the state or region hosting the meeting.

The COP, the CMP, SBI and SBSTA each have their own bureau, advisory bodies that advise the president or chair in managing the negotiating process. The bureaus meet during the conferences and throughout the year. The COP/CMP bureaus are formed of elected representatives from each UN regional group and one representative of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Country Groupings
To increase the manageability of negotiations, Parties often form coalitions, which come in various forms and sizes. They can be issue-specific, institutionalized or political. Coalitions can also help give voice to points of views that might otherwise be overshadowed or neglected. The UNFCCC website contains a helpful to Party groupings.

The secretariat supports the climate change negotiations, as well as an increasing number of constituted bodies that serve the process. The Secretariat makes arrangements for meetings, compiles and prepares reports, and coordinates with other relevant international bodies as mandated by COP and CMP decisions.

Rules of Procedure
A key document for participants contains the draft rules of procedures. At COP 1, Parties could not reach agreement on the draft rules. To enable the COP to proceed with its business, Parties agreed to apply the draft rules, (document FCCC/CP/1996/2), with the exception of Rule 42. As a result of the continuing lack of consensus, this has been the practice ever since.

Document symbols – what do they mean?
Documents are the “lifeblood” of the negotiating process. They are the means by which proposals from Parties are circulated, information is disseminated, and draft text is negotiated and adopted.

Conference Room Papers (CRPs) are produced during negotiating sessions and contain new proposals. They are intended for use only during the session.

Limited Distribution Document (L documents) are draft reports and draft outcome texts that are usually adopted at the end of a session. They are usually advanced drafts, but changes are sometimes still made at the last moment before adoption.

Miscellaneous documents (MISC documents) usually contain submissions from Parties. They are not translated and are issued with no United Nations masthead.

Technical papers (TPs) typically analyze the process, progress or results of technical or scientific research relating to a UNFCCC negotiating issue.

Information document (INF documents) provide information on a specific negotiating issue. They are not translated and are made available in the language of issue.

Non-papers are informal in-session documents, usually of a temporary nature, made available informally to facilitate the negotiations.

The website section on documents and decisions contains further detailed information, an advanced search engine and handy list of all documents, decisions and reports. Newcomers may also want to view the texts of the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol and the glossary of terms.

Updates during the conference—what’s going on today?
Participants use these items during the sessions to find out what's going on:

  • Provisional agendas for all negotiating bodies (available on the website before the session)
  • Daily Programme (the day's negotiating schedule as it stands first thing in the morning)
  • Third-party assessments of the previous day's proceedings. The three most popular are IISD's Earth Negotiations Bulletin, ECO by Climate Action Network (representing the ENGOs), and TWN by the Third World Network.

Laptop and smartphones users also have these resources for up-to-the-minute news: