If you have been on the internet recently, you might have noticed that there seems to be more climate protests happening than usual. From the Just Stop Oil protesters throwing soup on a Van Gogh to the Animal Rebellion activists pouring milk on the floor of supermarkets, they’re getting more and more creative. But does it seem like they’re all happening at once? Hint: They’re all taking place ahead of one of the biggest events in the calendar and it starts with a C.

No, it’s not Christmas. Enter COP27, the 27th installment of the COPs, or the annual United Nations Climate Change Conferences. For nearly three decades, almost every country on earth has come together (itself a pretty impressive feat) for global climate summits. In that time, climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority. 

But like any long-running series, it’s had its highs (the Paris agreement in 2015) and its abject lows (Copenhagen in 2009).

COP27 will take place against a complex and challenging backdrop: Putin’s war against Ukraine has not only left millions facing acute hunger, but the heavy dependence on Russian energy sources, especially gas, has plunged Europe into an energy crisis which some countries are using as an excuse to reinvest in fossil fuels, instead of pushing for renewables. 

At the same time, the effects of the climate crisis are already being felt. A third of Pakistan underwater. Europe’s hottest summer in 500 years. Over a million displaced by the worst flooding Nigeria has ever seen. Droughts in the Horn of Africa. Wildfires in California. The need for bold climate action has never been greater.

Although many have argued that the prospects of this meeting yielding any meaningful results are remote at best, for all their flaws, the COPs are the only forum on the climate crisis in which the opinions and concerns of the poorest countries carry equal weight to that of the biggest economies.

The timing couldn’t be more crucial. Here’s everything you need to know about COP27 — and why we can’t afford for it to be another flop.

What is a COP?

COP is an annual climate summit convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a climate body of the UN. 

COP stands for Conference of the Parties — meaning a gathering of countries — and 2022 will be the 27th time that it’s taken place. Hence: COP27.

When will COP27 take place?

COP27 will be held from Nov. 6 to Nov. 18, 2022.

Where will it take place?

In Sharm El Sheik, Egypt. This is the first COP in Africa since COP22 was held in Morocco in 2016. It’s been dubbed the “African COP,” in focus as well as location, as African countries face some of the worst impacts of climate change.

But wait — aren’t civil society and freedoms currently repressed in Egypt?

According to CIVICUS, an organization which tracks the openness of civic space (which allows people and groups to organize and engage in advocacy) in different countries, Egypt is rated as closed — the worst rating there is. 

What does that look like in reality?

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and other civil society organizations have said: “The reality is that almost all organizations and individuals who attempt to expose or ensure accountability for human rights violations in Egypt are imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise subjected to a wide range of threats and attacks.”

According to a recent report from Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian regime has successfully silenced the country’s environmentalists in the run-up to COP27, as part of its wider strategy to repress human rights, which is also threatening to quash meaningful global climate action. (Egypt’s ministry of foreign affairs denied the report’s findings, in a statement.)

Then, on Oct. 24, the government told civil society organizations and governments that events planned for the opening Monday would have to be canceled unless they involved visiting heads of state, citing security restrictions. 

James Lloyd, an organizer behind the Nature Positive Pavilion, said: “We’re concerned that the shutdown of pavilions during the first day of the summit takes away the critical spaces for this dialogue, stopping events and important discussions that are critical in moving the net zero and nature positive agenda forward.”

What really goes on at a COP?

It depends. 

When the Paris agreement was signed in 2015, it was agreed that every five years countries would return with more ambitious plans to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions and tackle global warming. The COVID-19 pandemic caused COP to be canceled in 2020, making last year’s COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, one of the “big COPs.” The “small COPs,” held in the intervening years, tend to focus on laying the groundwork for negotiations.

Laden with jargon and the sterile language of international diplomacy, the COP27 schedule is opaque at best. COPs usually open with a ceremonial opening meeting. This is then followed by days of world leaders on stage talking about climate change, concentrating either on what their countries intend to do about it (if they’re rich) or on the dire consequences they are experiencing (if they’re poor). The remaining days have themes — such as finance and energy — and see politicians and business leaders stepping up to announce various new promises, pledges, coalitions, and projects.

But outside the doors, activists usually rage against superficial commitments and rally against political inaction. This time, activists fear that civil society's participation in the event will be all but non-existent, since demonstrations are effectively banned in Egypt. 

Remind me, what was agreed at Paris?

Under the landmark Paris agreement at COP21 in 2015, nations committed to holding global heating to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and preferably 1.5 degrees.

Though the deal is legally binding, the commitments that countries have made to cut their emissions are not, unless they are enshrined into national or regional legislation. 

Basically, it’s as if you signed a legally binding agreement to lose weight but no one said anything about eating chocolate cake. 

Who takes part?

The attendees at COP are representatives of governments or “observer” organizations, like charities and NGOs. 

There are 197 parties which are broadly organized in five regional groups: Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Western Europe and Other States (including Australia, Canada, and the US).

What happened at COP26?

It had all the hallmarks of a smashing COP and it should've been our moment for climate action — but wealthy nations’ leaders failed. 

On the need to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius, it was estimated that COP26 pledges put us on track for between 1.8 degrees Celsius and 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming. 

Meanwhile, on climate finance — another core need that COP26 should have delivered — wealthy countries failed to meet their 2009 commitment to deliver an annual $100 billion in climate finance to support those on the front lines of climate change, a target that should have been met in 2020 and isn’t expected to be met until 2023. 

What do we want to happen at COP27?

1. Climate Finance

In 2009, wealthy nations (which are also those most responsible for the climate crisis) pledged to mobilize $100 billion in climate finance annually by 2020 to support vulnerable nations with  mitigation (avoiding and reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (adjusting to current and future climate change impacts).

But they still haven’t coughed up. 

We’re asking wealthy countries to deliver on their promise to deliver the $100 billion per year to climate-vulnerable countries with immediate effect until 2025. 

This funding must be new and additional to official development assistance (ODA), split between mitigation and adaptation.

In addition, countries must agree on a more ambitious post-2025 finance goal, co-created with developing countries and climate-vulnerable communities.

2. Adaptation

In the years ahead, countries will have to perfect the art and skill of climate adaptation, or the process of adjusting to the worsening effects of current and future climate change. 

“Adapting to climate change is a moral, economic, and environmental imperative,” Christina Chan, director of the Climate Resilience Practice at the World Resources Institute, told Global Citizen in 2021. “Investing in adaptation is not accepting defeat and failure. It’s accepting reality.” 

We are asking for the delivery of the commitment made at COP26 to double adaptation funding by 2025. 

3. Loss and Damage

Loss and damage normally refers to the destructive impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided either by mitigation or adaptation.

Loss and damage is often divided into economic loss and damage, including to livelihoods and property, and non-economic loss and damage, including loss of life and losses to biodiversity and cultural heritage.

We are campaigning for the establishment of an additional, adequate, and accessible finance mechanism to address loss and damage for the communities on the front line of the climate crisis, especially in the Global South.

4. Phase Out Fossil Fuels

We’re demanding that all parties adopt concrete plans to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 or sooner, and reinvest these funding in clean, just, and sustainable energy systems, and green recoveries. 

COP27 must put an end to fossil fuels, including gas. In addition, governments must commit to a full coal phase-out by 2030, as a major step toward net zero.

What can Global Citizens do to help?

Start taking action! 

Head to our climate action headquarters here to see what actions you can take to make a difference — whether that’s signing petitions urging world leaders and businesses to do better on the climate crisis, sending emails to G20 ministers to protect natural ecosystems, or shooting off messages to European countries to support a green transition for all.

Global Citizen Explains

Defend the Planet

COP27: Everything You Need to Know About the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference

By Tess Lowery