United Nations climate change conferences have attracted an increasing number and range of observer participants, often outnumbering national delegates. The interactions between the formal and informal spaces of climate governance at the Conference of the Parties (COP) are explored by investigating why non-nation state actors (NNSAs) attend them and by measuring to what extent official UN Side Events provide relevant information for the formal negotiations. Based on primary empirical research at recent COPs, it is found that 60–75% of Side Events have related directly to items under negotiation in the post-2012 climate negotiations. In this regard, Side Events that facilitate informal exchange between stakeholders not only provide input into the negotiations but also allow issues beyond the realm of the negotiations to be discussed, reflecting the scope of climate change. Although Side Events are an effective forum to exchange ideas and network, their current format and purpose as being events ‘on the side’ does not offer a sufficient framework for coordination between the work of NNSAs and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process.