What is COP27 and why is it important?

The annual conference aims to tackle the climate crisis

A yellow and blue COP27 logo on a phone screen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

With the annual event now just weeks away, people are beginning to ask what is COP27?

There's been a lot to keep up with in the world of politics recently, with Liz Truss resigning (opens in new tab) after just 44 days in office followed by Rishi Sunak appointing the new cabinet ministers (opens in new tab) and the public wanting to know everything else about the new Prime Minister (opens in new tab).

Now, there's another political event on the horizon, COP27. You might remember COP26, which was led in Glasgow last year, but as the annual summit rolls round again many are still asking what exactly is it and why is it important?

What is COP27 and what does it stand for?

'COP' is short for 'Conference of the Parties' and refers to the annual UN climate summits where governments agree measures to tackle the climate crisis. 2022 sees the 27th conference, hence 'COP27'.

The word 'parties' refers to the countries that attend, which are those that signed up to the original UN climate agreement in 1992. The first COP meeting was held in Berlin, Germany, in March 1995.

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COP27 is expected to focus on three main areas: reducing emissions, helping countries prepare for climate change, and securing technical support and funding for developing countries to deal with climate change.

Last year, at COP26 in Glasgow, a plan was agreed to reduce coal usage, world leaders agreed to phase-out subsidies that artificially lower the price of coal, oil, or natural gas, and there was an agreement pledged to significantly increase money to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change.

When is COP27?

The 27th annual UN meeting on climate is set to take place from 6 to 18 November 2022. The UN climate summits usually take place around the same time each year, some time between November and December.

Who will attend COP27?

More than 200 governments from around the world are invited to COP27, and environmental charities, community groups, think tanks, businesses and faith groups will also take part.

However, not everyone accepts the invitation. For example, China have not confirmed whether their leaders will take part in this year's conference, while Russian President Vladimir Putin is not expected to attend as he didn't take up the invite to last year's event in Glasgow - though a Kremlin spokesperson said climate change was an "important" priority for Russia.

New PM Rishi Sunak has confirmed that he will be skipping this year's event, to the criticism of Labour leader Keir Starmer, who tweeted (opens in new tab): "Britain showing up to work with world leaders is an opportunity to grasp. Not an event to shun."

Where is COP27 being held?

COP27 will this year take place in will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. Sharm el-Sheikh is a resort town known for sandy beaches, clear waters and coral reefs, and is situated between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea.

The hosts of COP27 have issued a plea for invited attendees to set aside any tensions that have arisen over the Ukraine war for the sake of focusing on the climate crisis, with Wael Aboulmagd (opens in new tab), the Egyptian government’s special representative for Cop27, saying, "Animosity will have a cost. We as responsible diplomats ask everyone to rise to the occasion and show leadership. Put political differences aside and come together."

However, the decision to host COP27 in Egypt has attracted some controversy. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said Egypt has severely curtailed the work of environmental groups - though officials in Cairo said the report was "misleading". In addition, some human rights groups have said the Egyptian government have prevented them from attending the summit because of their criticism of Egypt's rights record.

What has Rishi Sunak said about COP27?

Rishi Sunak has confirmed that he will not be attending COP27. Downing Street said the PM had "other pressing domestic commitments including preparations for the autumn Budget".

In a video recorded for Sky News (opens in new tab), Sunak said: "At the moment, it's right that I'm also focusing on depressing domestic challenges we have with the economy," adding that his government will "continue to deliver" on tackling the climate crisis.

Sunak's predecessor, Liz Truss, had been due to attend the conference, and then-PM Boris Johnson attended last year's summit.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey told the BBC (opens in new tab) she was planning to to attend along with the outgoing Alok Sharma, who was president of COP26 in Glasgow. Coffey defended Rishi Sunak's decision, and said that "protecting the planet is absolutely a priority for the government". She added: "We remain committed to net zero and to leading international and domestic action to tackle climate change. The UK is forging ahead of many other countries on net zero."

But the decision has been criticised by opposition parties, with Green Party MP Caroline Lucas saying it made "a mockery of any government claims on continued climate leadership," while Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, tweeted (opens in new tab): "Would Sunak rather prioritise climate change or allow the world to face catastrophe?"

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