COP24 - some of the Grantham Scholars posing in front of the massive COP logo: what's it like at COP?

A day at COP: what’s it like to be at the biggest climate conference in the world?

COP – the UN’s annual mega conference to debate climate change and set targets – is underway, despite a last minute change of location.

Every year the Grantham Centre sends some of our Scholars to COP, including the year the Paris Agreement was agreed upon. If you want to stay up to date with what’s happening on the ground at COP25 then keep an eye on our Twitter account here.

Last year, we sent Grantham Scholars Florentine Weber and George Coiley (pictured above with Eunice Oppon who also went) to COP24 in Poland. And to show what’s it like to be at the biggest climate conference in the world, they’ve created this photoblog ↓

Photoblog: what’s it like at COP?

By train from Sheffield to Katowice

Our journey across Europe from Sheffield to Katowice

COP24 was held in Katowice, the capital of the Silesian region in the south east of Poland. The town is half the size of Sheffield and known for its coal mine industry.

We took the opportunity of a COP in Europe to go by train rather than by plane. In the pictured map, you can see the route we took, from Sheffield in the UK all the way to Katowice.

Going by train rather than plane took ten times longer, and was six times more expensive – generously paid for by the Grantham Centre – but produced only a third of the CO2 emissions. Definitely a good start when you are going to a climate conference!

We stayed in an Airbnb that was walking distance from the International Conference Center where COP24 was hosted. Free public transport, such as buses and trams, was also offered in Katowice. 

Starting the day

the main entrance to COP24
A row of unobtrusive, white doors forms the main entrance. The wall around those doors is printed with the flags of all nations participating in COP24.

Each morning we prepared for the day accompanied by breakfast in a little café called ‘Kafej’ right in front of the conference centre.

There we read the daily program, scrolling through summaries from email lists such as IISD Reporting Services, Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) and The latter is a blog written by young journalists, essential reading for COP freshers like ourselves.

From Kafej we headed through a pedestrian crossing under a big round-about to the conference’s main entrance.

Kristen's badge showing her observer status as COP24
Name badges show the orange ‘observer status’ which grants access to most areas, but not to all.

The entrance is like the check-in at an airport. Ourselves and our bags were scanned. Obviously anything that could harm others, like weapons, was not allowed. And if you were carrying a bottle filled with water you were asked to take a mouthful to make sure it was harmless.

After the security check, the bar-code on your pass was scanned. This way it is registered who is in the conference at any given time. And while inside COP, you are under the jurisdiction of the United Nations (see here), rather than Poland.

10 hectares for climate discussions

COP24 musicians in the Action Hub playing various instruments
Tahitian musicians playing at COP

In the ten hectares of the conference centre there were: 2 plenary halls, 25 meeting rooms, 2 press conference rooms, 6 side event rooms (used for more than 260 official side events), the Action Hub, 160 exhibit spaces, the service area, media facilities, delegation offices and pavilions.

First up after leaving the security and check-in area is the Action Hub. There we found Tahitian musicians playing.

Next is the entrance hall, this is the place from which paths to the individual sessions originate. It also accommodates the information point, spaces for document distribution, and lost & found. And if you need another coffee, you can get it here!

On the last day of COP the hall is used for protests (more on this below).

The plenary and beyond

From the entrance hall there is direct access to the 2 plenary halls. You might have seen a picture of the plenary halls on the front cover of your newspaper or on the news. It is the exemplary place for discussions of important announcements.

The plenary hall showing COP24 chair Hoesung Lee giving a speech
The plenary hall – where the most formal discussions at COP24 take place. Here you can see COP24 Chair Hoesung Lee giving a speech. Observers like us sit at the back, people who are due to speak have chairs with microphones reserved for them.

COP24’s program offers a huge range of side events, such as talks, round tables, panels and discussions.

Sessions varied from ‘Climate-induced human mobility: taking stock of 3 years of discussions under the UNFCCC’ to ‘Elaborating and Implementing Article 6 of the Paris Agreement’ or ‘Soils advantage: Transforming agriculture by recarbonising the earth’s soil’.

Temporary corridors at COP24, they connect sectors with each other. George takes a change from the normal course and jumps in the air for joy over our exciting time.

Most of the sessions are scheduled for 90 minutes and in English.

In case you do not know the language the sessions are held in, headphones are given out, so you can have an instant translation.

Don’t forget to eat!

Lunch is a fantastic opportunity to chat to random, interesting people! But if you don’t want to miss out on any events, you will probably never make your way down to the food court.

We only went to take a photo for journalistic purposes…

Instead of staying at the food court for lunch, we had a quick snack near to where the side events take place.

The food court is the main place for having a big lunch at COP but it is the most expensive as well.

And, no, not all dishes at COP are vegetarian.

The pavilions

The pavilions constitute the core of the conference. They are small areas that are made available to participating nations and organisations, such as the European Union or WWF.

Each pavilion is unique. It represents the nation’s or organisation’s culture and attitude to life on earth. Within the pavilions we were given the opportunity to get in contact with people from the respective nation. Sessions and talks, especially with politicians and scientists, are run here. But you have to be fast to get in, the spaces are really little!

The Indonesian Pavilion gives away souvenirs.

The UK pavilion represented innovation and cohesion, while the German one boasted a simple design and straightforwardness – and people said they offered the best free coffee.

In the Hawaiian’s pavilion everybody was invited to sing karaoke, while Indonesia and Brazil shone with colours and warm greetings.

The Gulf Cooperation Council preferred to hold their pavilion with a big white sofa behind closed doors.

And Poland presented themselves as very open, exhibiting their coal industry in forms of jewellery, just as in a wealthy museum.

Closed doors

The most important negotiations at COP take place behind closed doors.

Upstairs we find the most exciting place at COP – at least for those who have permission to enter. For us – with our ‘observer status’ – these doors keep closed.

Behind these closed doors decision makers are practising plain-talking – at least that is what every conference attendee hopes.

Here each nation makes climate decisions that will then be brought into international discussions the next day. This is where, even at night, whilst we were allowed to get some sleep, policy makers are working hard.

Press everywhere

The sounds of typing keyboards and printers. Journalists reviewing and editing their material in the Media Hub.

If you don’t see them taking photos, filming and interviewing attendees, then journalists are in the Media Hub or the Writing Press Area. We often saw journalists sprinting from one place to the other across the conference.

And, if you can manage to catch one of them, you are really lucky because journalists are the best informed.

They have the brand new news and they know what is going on and at what place to be at what time!

After work

On stage in the Greenpeace Hub: An activist from Russia is giving a talk on air quality in his hometown.

The conference program officially ends at 9 pm. We check-out by having our passes scanned just as we did in the morning.

At night, we have the chance to meet more informally at various places, for example the Greenpeace Hub. This is a creative space for activists, with a stage for informal talks.

Also, it served as a planning space for demonstrations at COP. Many banners were painted here. Demonstrations at COP must be registered, but they don’t appear in the official program.

Outside the climate bubble

The entrance hall on the last day of the conference being used for protests. They are asking ‘which side are you on?’ and calling for ‘system change not climate change’.

We learned that COP is a world apart. Over two weeks, the small town of Katowice was transformed into a bubble, inside which all kinds of motivated climate stakeholders met.

Around the clock, the focus was on nothing but climate change. Talks revolved around climate science, climate policy, and activism for climate.

Outside of this bubble, at the Katowice Christmas Market, on the shopping street and on the train out of the city, we could hear hardly anyone talking about climate change anymore.



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