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Learnings from COP - What can the events industry learn from COPs?

COPs, or Conferences of the Parties, are pivotal global gatherings convened under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They serve as formal meetings where governments assess global efforts to address climate change. By examining the sustainability initiatives of COP26 and COP27, and taking guidance from the UNFCCC's 'How to COP', we can derive valuable lessons on how to make events more sustainable, fostering positive impacts for the environment and communities.

Understanding COP:

COPs are convened under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a multilateral treaty adopted in 1992. These meetings serve as formal gatherings where Parties (governments) evaluate global efforts to advance the key Paris Agreement, aiming to limit global warming to as close as possible to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Decisions are made on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to climate impacts, providing assistance to vulnerable countries, and supporting green economies.

Significance and magnitude of COPs:

A protester holds up a sign saying 'There is no planet B'.

COPs play a pivotal role in the global battle against climate change. They serve as a platform for governments to assess progress and negotiate effective strategies to combat climate change, taking into account the unique circumstances of each nation. It's a collective effort that involves not just governments, but also the private sector, civil society, industry, and individuals, reflecting the urgent need for global cooperation in tackling the climate crisis. These conferences have steadily grown over the past two decades, becoming the largest annual meetings convened by the United Nations and the most significant environmental events worldwide. Their sheer scale emphasises their importance in addressing the climate challenge on a global scale and global efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainability at COP26:

In 2021, the UK's hosting of COP26 in Glasgow exemplified a resolute commitment to delivering a sustainable, carbon-neutral event. This endeavour was guided by the UNFCCC's 'How to COP', offering comprehensive advice on organising environmentally responsible climate change conferences. The UK instituted the COP26 Sustainability Governing Principles, aligned with UN Sustainable Development Goals, and implemented a range of measures, including;

  • Prioritised low carbon alternative energy sources including electric and low emission vehicles, solar panels, and hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO) in generators, replacing diesel.

  • Avoided waste to landfill by emphasising material reuse and recycling, with stipulations embedded in contractual obligations for supplier procurement and delivery partners.

  • Gave precedence to locally sourced and seasonal food items to minimise transportation mileage and associated carbon emissions, thereby supporting local businesses.

  • Encouraged delegates to opt for sustainable forms of transportation such as walking, cycling, or public transit whenever possible.

  • Committed to employing local personnel.

  • Donated furniture and accessories post-event to individuals and communities in need.

  • Incorporated sustainability considerations into design and material choices.

  • Hosted industry-wide workshops to enhance standards and capture best practices for future events.

Sustainable leadership at COP27:

COP27 in Egypt 2022

Similarly, in the previous year, Egypt played host to COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, demonstrating exceptional dedication to sustainability. Initiatives included the procurement of renewable energy and provision of eco-friendly transportation options. Egypt likewise adhered closely to the UNFCCC's COP handbook, showcasing leadership in delivering a sustainable event. Key measures comprised:

  • Procurement of renewable energy through the development of three new solar photovoltaic arrays collectively generating 15 megawatts.

  • Minimised emissions from local transport by providing an electric and natural gas-powered bus fleet, accessible free of charge.

  • Conducted an independent carbon audit to explore opportunities for enhancing the venue's environmental performance and reducing the overall carbon footprint of the event.

  • A subsequent assessment was conducted during the event to evaluate the implementation and success of each initiative, identifying areas for future improvement.

Learnings from the UNFCCC's 'How to COP' Handbook:

The UNFCCC's 'How to COP' Handbook serves as a comprehensive guide for orchestrating sustainable climate change conferences. Its inclusive approach provides a roadmap for host countries, emphasising key principles crucial for the success of such events. Recognising the varying scales of events, not all nine of the handbook’s principles are universally applicable. However, they do underscore the importance of early planning, clear protocol, and broad societal engagement. Additionally, it outlines essential aspects like reducing air travel, ensuring suitable nearby accommodation, effective media management, and proactive measures for achieving carbon neutrality. These principles extend beyond COP events and serve as guidelines for other sustainable events, promoting a holistic approach to environmental responsibility.

How can we apply these principles to sustainable event planning?

  • Start with small, achievable changes: commence by integrating manageable sustainable practices into event planning.

  • Measure and track emissions and waste: implement systems for monitoring emissions and waste, facilitating realistic sustainability goals and progress tracking.

  • Educate and engage attendees: inform attendees about sustainability efforts, encouraging their active involvement. Provide information on practices like carpooling and public transport guide routes to reduce environmental impact.

  • Examine supply chain sustainability: evaluate and collaborate with suppliers committed to sustainable practices, ensuring alignment with the event's environmental goals.

  • Optimise food service: consider measures like portion control and plated meals to minimise waste compared to buffet-style service, as well as donating left over food to the local area. This practice not only reduces food waste but also supports local businesses.

  • Offset remaining emissions: leverage verified carbon offset programs to neutralise any remaining emissions. 

  • Leave a positive legacy: contribute to host communities through volunteering efforts, charitable tie-ins, and supporting local businesses. Leaving a positive impact is a fundamental principle of sustainable event planning.

This article delves into the insights the events industry can gain from COP events, convened under the UNFCCC to combat climate change. These conferences represent vital platforms for global collaboration, engaging governments, the private sector, and civil society. Given their status as the world's largest environmental events, there is much to be learned from how COPs are organised and executed, particularly in mitigating their impact on the climate. 

Drawing from the experiences of COP26 and COP27, and the ‘How to COP' Handbook, there is a lot we can learn, providing practical advice for event planners, from emissions monitoring to engaging attendees. Ultimately, this article underscores the crucial role of sustainability in event planning, highlighting its potential for positive environmental and community outcomes.


About Zentive Agency

Zentive is a sustainable events agency in London focused on doing good. By integrating technology and following sustainable event practices, we create eco-friendly events that help you connect, reward and motivate your audience whilst leaving a lasting positive impact on the world. We believe in constantly pushing the boundaries of event planning and execution, embracing cutting-edge technologies, creative concepts, and immersive experiences. Our goal is to ensure that each event we organise leaves a lasting impact on attendees, participants, all stakeholders along the value chain, and the planet.


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