The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the principal decision making body of the Convention as set out in Article VII of the CMS text.
It meets once every three years and sets the budget and priorities of the following three years (the triennium). It also decides on the amendment of the Appendices and considers reports submitted by the Parties, the Scientific Council and the Agreements established under the Convention. It also has the task of recommending to Parties whether they should conclude further regional Agreements for the conservation of particular species or groups of species.
All the Parties are entitled to attend the Conference and participate in the votes. Non-Party States are entitled to send observers, as are NGOs active in the field of conservation and other United Nations organizations.
The first COP in 1985 established a Standing Committee, whose task is to oversee the running of the Convention and the Secretariat between sessions of the COP. Its membership comprises the elected regional representatives of the Parties, plus the Depositary Government (Germany) and the Host Governments of the previous and next COPs.
There have been twelve meetings of the Conference of the Parties so far. Some have been held at UN centres, while others, such as COP11 and COP12, have been hosted by one of the Parties.
There were approximately 50 delegates at the first COP in 1985 representing all nineteen of the Parties at that time. Attendance has grown steadily since then and typically COP attracts several hundred delegates and a similar number of observers representing non-Party States, United Nations agencies, Secretariats of Agreements established under the Convention, conservation NGOs and other international agencies active in the field of conservation and sustainable use.
The Convention’s Scientific Council provides technical advice to the Conference. The Council is made up of national experts and taxonomic, thematic and geographical specialists appointed by the Conference.