- Only about 3 percent of UNFCCC-accredited NGOs are religious in nature;
- More than 80 percent of those faith-based groups are Christian;
- Most are from the Global North; and
- Religious NGOs participate in the UNFCCC at a much lower rate than in the ECOSOC.
2. The COP and the UNFCCC: A Normative Assessment
3. Religious NGOs at the United Nations
- 13,890 individuals from 197 registered parties, aka world governments;
- 6,046 individuals from 1,120 registered NGOs;
- 1,541 individuals from 726 registered media organizations;
- 791 individuals from 80 registered intergovernmental organizations, such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Renewable Energy Agency, as well as the International Potato Center, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC);
- 267 individuals from 19 registered specialized agencies, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund;
- 227 individuals from 25 U.N. groups; and
- Eight individuals from one observer state, the Holy See, aka the Vatican.
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Appendix A. UNFCCC-Accredited Religious NGOs as of May 2019 (Including Institutions of Higher Learning), with Naming Convention According to the UNFCCC
|ACT Alliance—Action by Churches Together (ACT Alliance)|
|All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC)|
|Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKWSU)|
|Bread for the World (BfdW)|
|Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation|
|Care of Creation, Inc.|
|Caritas Internationalis (CI)|
|Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR)|
|Catholic Relief Services—United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (CRS)|
|Catholic Rural Youth Movement Germany e.V. (KLJB)|
|Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA)|
|Christian Aid (CA)|
|Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB)|
|Church of the Brethren (COB)|
|Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA)|
|Comité Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Développement 13 Terre solidaire (CCFD-Terre Solidaire)|
|Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Carmelite NGO)|
|Cooperation Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité (CIDSE)|
|Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association (DDMBA)|
|Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA|
|Economic Justice Network of the Fellowship of Christian Councils of Southern Africa (EJN)|
|Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA)|
|Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN)|
|Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)|
|Evangelist Professional Training School|
|Faith Association of the Rehabilitation of Street Children and Orphans (FARSO)|
|Finn Church Aid Foundation (FCA)|
|Franciscans International (FI)|
|Friends World Committee for Consultation|
|Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU)|
|Indigenous Education Network of Turtle Island (IENTI/IEN)|
|Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO)|
|Jeunesse Étudiante Catholique Internationale (IYCS-JECI)|
|Lutheran World Federation (LWF)|
|Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers (CFMSA)|
|Maryknoll Sisters of Saint Dominic Inc.|
|Mercy International Association (MIA)|
|MISEREOR, German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Cooperation (MISEREOR)|
|National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States (Baha’i International Community)|
|Organisation des Laics Engages du Sacré Coeur pour le Developpement de Kimbondo (OLESDK)|
|Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)|
|Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW)|
|Sjoham Baabaji Mission|
|Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries (SCMM)|
|Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI)|
|Texas Impact Education Fund doing business as the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy (TICPP)|
|The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (ICSD)|
|Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)|
|United Church of Canada|
|United Methodist Church—General Board of Church and Society (UMC-GBCS)|
|World Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Associations (YMCA)|
|World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP)|
|World Council of Churches (WCC)|
|World Vision International (WVI)|
|World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA)|
Appendix B. Religious NGOs at COP 24, with Naming Convention According to the Observer-Registration Forms of Accredited NGOs
|ACT Alliance—Action by Churches Together|
|Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University|
|Bread for the World|
|Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation|
|Care of Creation|
|Catholic Fund for Overseas Development|
|Catholic Relief Services—United States Conference of Catholic Bishops|
|Catholic Rural Youth Movement Germany|
|Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa|
|Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh|
|Church of Sweden|
|Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action|
|Comité Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Développement – Terre solidaire|
|Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel|
|Cooperation internationale pour le développement et la solidarité|
|Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association|
|Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA|
|Dominicans for Justice and Peace|
|Ecological Christian Organisation|
|Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance|
|Ecumenical Youth Council in Europe|
|Evangelical Lutheran Church in America|
|Faith Association of the Rehabilitation of Street Children and Orphans|
|Fastenopfer—Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund|
|Friends World Committee for Consultation|
|Indigenous Education Network of Turtle Island|
|Inter-Religious Climate and Ecology Network|
|Interfaith Power and Light|
|Jeunesse Étudiante Catholique Internationale|
|Lutheran World Federation|
|Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers|
|Maryknoll Sisters of Saint Dominic|
|Mercy International Association|
|MISEREOR, German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Cooperation|
|Norwegian Church Aid|
|Norwegian Interfaith Climate Network|
|Organisation des Laics Engages du Sacré Coeur pour le Developpement de Kimbondo|
|Pacific Conference of Churches|
|Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)|
|Quaker Earthcare Witness|
|Texas Impact Education Fund doing business as the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy|
|The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development|
|Unitarian Universalist Association|
|United Church of Canada|
|United Methodist Church—General Board of Church and Society|
|World Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Associations|
|World Conference of Religions for Peace|
|World Council of Churches|
|World Evangelical Alliance|
|World Vision International|
Appendix C. UNFCCC COPs
|COP 1: Berlin, Germany, 28 March–7 April 1995|
|COP 2: Geneva, Switzerland, 8–19 July 1996|
|COP 3: Kyoto, Japan, 1–10 December 1997|
|COP 4: Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2–13 November 1998|
|COP 5: Bonn, Germany, 25 October–5 November 1999|
|COP 6 (part 1): The Hague, Netherlands, 13–24 November 2000|
|COP 6 (part 2): Bonn, Germany, 16–27 July 2001|
|COP 7: Marrakech, Morocco, 29 October–9 November 2001|
|COP 8: New Delhi, India, 23 October–1 November 2002|
|COP 9: Milan, Italy, 1–12 December 2003|
|COP 10: Buenos Aires, Argentina, 6–17 December 2004|
|COP 11: Montreal, Canada, 28 November–9 December 2005|
|COP 12: Nairobi, Kenya, 6–17 November 2006|
|COP 13: Bali, Indonesia, 3–17 December 2007|
|COP 14: Poznań, Poland, 1–12 December 2008|
|COP 15: Copenhagen, Denmark, 7–18 December 2009|
|COP 16: Cancún, Mexico, 28 November–10 December 2010|
|COP 17: Durban, South Africa, 28 November–9 December 2011|
|COP 18: Doha, Qatar, 26 November–7 December 2012|
|COP 19: Warsaw, Poland, 11–23 November 2013|
|COP 20: Lima, Peru, 1–12 December 2013|
|COP 21: Paris, France, 30 November–12 December 2015|
|COP 22: Marrakech, Morocco, 7–18 November 2016|
|COP 23: Bonn, Germany, 6–17 November 2017|
|COP 24: Katowice, Poland, 3–14 December 2018|
|COP 25: Madrid, Spain, 2–13 December 2019|
|COP 26: Glasgow, U.K., scheduled for 1–12 November 2021|
The COP is sometimes stylized as “CoP.”
There also are other COPs outside of the UNFCCC. For example, other U.N. treaties—such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora—have their own COPs that are independent from each other and from the UNFCCC’s COP. In this paper, the COP refers solely to the UNFCCC’s COP.
The COP also serves as the conference for other subsequent UNFCCC-related agreements, such as the CMP—the Conference of the Parties Serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol—and the CMA—the Conference of the Parties Serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement. For example, COP 24 also was CMP 15 and CMA 2. In this paper, the COP refers to the entire conference, complete with its concurrent meetings such as CMPs and CMAs.
The COP and the UNFCCC operate independently but in concert with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. Basically, the IPCC conducts research that is utilized by the UNFCCC, which is both the name of the international climate-change agreement endorsed by nations as well as the name of the U.N. secretariat, or agency, that assists the work of those who signed the agreement, organizes negotiation meetings and, together with countries, hosts annual conferences, or COPs, of the parties to the convention, or those who signed the UNFCCC treaty. The COP, in turn, serves as the governing body for the UNFCCC.
White also briefly praised Buddhism as the mirrored opposite of Christianity and made passing references to Judaism and Islam, but only in reference to Christianity.
One of six major U.N. organs, ECOSOC consists of 54 rotating member states tasked with addressing social and economic policy. It operates independently from the COP and the UNFCCC.
In the time between COPs, the UNFCCC organizes one (and sometimes none, sometimes two) significantly smaller climate-change conference that hosts negotiations and committee meetings for UNFCCC groups such as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation. These groups do important work, of course, but whether the UNFCCC holds meetings once, twice or even thrice annually, the point is the same: Picking up on negotiations six months later or a year later—over what has so far been a quarter century—simply is not adequately addressing the urgent action demanded by the climate crisis.
The COP talks of immediacy but actually has the fierce urgency of a sloth—which is simply reflective of (rather than the cause of) global inaction on climate change. It seems that many countries are more interested in filibustering to delay global action—not necessarily out of climate denial as much as out of climate avoidance, arguably in the interest of protecting the short-term monetary interests of those who benefit from the status quo. Those countries officially may recognize climate change as an existential threat but they do not seem particularly interested in taking the significant and urgent action that an existential threat demands.
That dovetails with those who espouse inaction on other threats, both preexisting (such as racism and economic inequality) and relatively new (such as the novel coronavirus [SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19] and unsustainable consumption that pushes the limits of the Earth’s carrying capacity).
The bumbling, slapstick policemen who cannot get the job done in the Keystone Film Company’s early 20th-century silent films.
Furthermore, it is then through becoming better humans (often through religious practice of universalist prosocial values) that we can ascend spiritually, reach enlightenment and/or serve the Divine.
These nine constituency groups were borrowed from those delineated in Agenda 21 as adopted in Rio de Janeiro at the 1992 Earth Summit, officially known as the first U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, at which the UNFCCC was born.
Due to the UNFCCC-accreditation timeline, the UNFCCC-accreditation list as of 1 May is the same as the list of NGOs that were eligible to register representatives at the previous year’s COP. New applicants from any year are not informed of a decision by UNFCCC until a year or two later, typically depending upon when they apply in relation to 31 August. For example, an NGO that applied to the UNFCCC for accreditation on 31 August 2018 would not have been informed of the UNFCCC’s decision until June or July of 2019, and an NGO that applied for accreditation on 1 September 2018 would not have been informed of the UNFCCC’s decision until June or July of 2020. In the case of this study, the accreditation list as of 1 May 2019 mirrors the complete list of those organizations that were eligible to register representatives for COP 24 in December 2018.
When an NGO’s name was neither clearly secular nor clearly religious, I consulted the NGO’s website to determine its classification. For example, the Jwala Trust in Haryana, India, is accredited by the UNFCCC, and I checked its website to confirm that it was indeed the secular Jwala Trust that works in sustainable development and not the Sri Jwala Prayoga Central Trust, a Hindu group with offices in Chennai and Hyderabad, India.
A close reading of Brewer, however, reveals a more nuanced stance: When he said that the United States is a Christian nation he noted that it was not officially Christian and that he only meant that it was a country whose populace largely was Christian and whose laws and history had been influenced greatly by Christianity.
It is possible, of course, that an organizational name that may have been overtly religious to its group members may not have seemed overtly religious to me. Furthermore, some ambiguity may be unavoidable: Religious groups on the fringes of Christianity and/or groups whose heritages are in Christianity but whose inclusion in the umbrella of Christianity today would be questionable, (hotly) debatable, or at the very least a source of tension—groups such as Mormons, Quakers (Friends) and Unitarian Universalists—were classified in this study as Christian rather than navigating the rabbit hole of determining at what point sects become fully independent of their roots (as such church-sect typologies have been much debated since delineated by sociologists and theologians such as Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch in the early 20th century); arguably each (or some) of the groups classified in this study as Christian should have been classified as separate religions, and follow-up studies should consider the classification further.
As its name implies, the U.N. Department of Global Communications, formerly the DPI, focuses on communicating the work of the United Nations to the public. It, like ECOSOC, operates independently from the COP and the UNFCCC.
As such, I have excluded the study’s results from comparisons with previous studies.
In response to the hesitancy that representatives from non-sectarian Jewish organizations such as Jewish Women International and the Zionist Organization of America expressed in response to being asked if they were “religious,” Berger—who works at the Bahá’í International Community’s United Nations Office—mistakenly concluded that the term religious is “complicated by the ambiguous nature of organizations’ religious identity” . However it actually was complicated by a misunderstanding of the nuances and intersectionality of Judaism, where the term “religious” is often interpreted as meaning those who are adherents of the religion’s Orthodox sects. While Judaism consists of an intersectional combination of religion, culture and ethnicity, Jewish non-sectarian groups typically will not define themselves as religious in the Jewish sense of the word; but they are, as Berger noted, aware that their work is of or pertaining to religion, aka religious—even if they define themselves as “secular”—since in Judaism the terms secular and religious usually refer to where one sees one’s place on a fictitious spectrum of different Jewish sects. In this model, sects such as Reform or Reconstructionist are falsely but commonly perceived as unreligious, and certainly perceived as less religious than Orthodox sects, with the latter solely serving as “religious” in the minds of many. This is likely a shared issue with people of other faiths, and it reveals an issue with survey data in that different respondents may have different definitions for selected words. Nonetheless Berger’s misunderstanding has been cited and replicated throughout the literature.
Jewish National Fund in Israel, alternatively transliterated as Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and commonly known by the initials KKL-JNF.
Also known as IGOs.
Correspondingly, Russia was classified as European; Egypt was classified as African; Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Turkey were classified as Asian; Caribbean countries were classified as North American; South American countries with island possessions in the Caribbean or Oceania were classified as South American; the United States, which has territories around the world, was classified as North American; and European colonial powers with territories around the world were classified as European.
Beinlich and Braungart geographically grouped NGOs according to the U.N.’s regional groups of member states. I chose continents instead since the U.N. grouping includes a number of “special case” exclusions, such as Israel and Turkey, and some unintuitive classifications, such as the placement of Cyprus in the Asia-Pacific group.
Although NGOs based in one place can register representatives from another—for example, an NGO based in Switzerland can register a representative from India—an NGO’s location remains important as an indicator of where NGO leadership is based.
While Chile technically remained the host country of COP 25, the conference itself was hosted entirely in Spain. To what degree the last-minute change of venue affected the makeup of NGO participation is unknown.
Statistical analysis allows for estimation of percentages of a population based on a sample. This study, however, covers the entire population rather than a sample, so the reported percentages are actual rather than statistically estimated.
Although its adherents only number in the hundreds of thousands, Zoroastrianism is included here because of its age and historic influence.
The UNFCCC document used to build this study’s database erroneously reports the total as 22,771.
Not surprisingly, none is based in Antarctica, although it is home to several thousand people housed at nearly 100 seasonal and permanent research stations.
Fossil-fuel interests are permitted to become accredited by the UNFCCC; UNFCCC-accredited NGOs need not be nonprofits, need not be seriously committed to a drawdown of fossil fuels, and they self-select for consideration of accreditation.
Berger classified Brahma Kumaris as spiritual.
Juul Petersen did not provide the year for her data. Given Trigeaud’s search of 3,275 ECOSOC-accredited NGOs in 2009, it is likely that Juul Petersen’s findings of 3,183 ECOSOC-accredited NGOs was from 2008 data.
Given that Trigeaud misreported the number of ECOSOC-accredited NGOs found by Juul Petersen as 3,181 instead of 3,183, and given that Trigeaud was reporting findings a half-dozen years after data collection, it also is possible that Trigeaud accidentally misreported her own data. (Perhaps she found 329 but transposed the numbers as 239?)
Similarly, at COP 23 I met Gopal Patel, who directs the Hindu-environmental group the Bhumi Project and had attended COP 23 as a representative of GreenFaith and registered under the accreditation of the World Council of Churches. However, neither his nor his group’s name is on the UNFCCC’s provisional registration list for COP 24, whose attendees were the focus of this study. The lack of formal accreditation for some religious groups makes their participation inconsistent from one year to the next, and always dependent upon the availability of extra registration slots held by accredited organizations—as well as relationships with those groups in order to benefit from their support.
The international arm of the Liberal, Progressive, Reconstructionist and Reform sects of Judaism.
Applications require a slew of documents, including copies of governmental certificate of incorporation; certificate of nonprofit status; organizational bylaws; documents that establish what happens to an organization’s assets in case of dissolution; financial statement for the most recent accounting year; lists of the names of donors and other sources of funding for the past two years; and organizational annual reports for the past two years. Lacking any required document nullifies one’s application, which will only be considered for accreditation once annually.
Although Somalia has no UNFCCC-accredited NGOs, the country still sends representatives from other segments of society, such as the government, to COPs.
Christians are not the only proselytizers, but judging by total numbers—Christianity is the largest religion in the world—they have been the most prolific and/or successful proselytizers.
In that sense and despite my non-Christian background, ancestry and education—and although Judaism’s self-definition of religion is quite different from Christianity’s, particularly in how the Jewish marriage of faith and tribalism more closely hews to the spirituality of other indigenous peoples—this paper nonetheless unintentionally may play into the colonial history of othering through the act of classification by using Beinlich and Braungart’s definition of religious groups, which is arguably a Christian definition.
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of Accredited NGOs
of Religious NGOs
of All NGOs
of Registered NGOs
of Religious NGOs
of All NGOs 1
|Total||58||100% 2||5.18% 2|
|Faith||Number of Registered Individuals||Percentage of Religious-NGO Individuals||Percentage of All NGO Individuals|
|Continent||Total Accredited NGOs||Percentage of Total||Number of Accredited Religious NGOs||Percentage of Religious NGOs|
|Australia & Oceania||71||3.20%||0||0%|
|U.N. Entity||Number of Accredited NGOs||Number of Accredited Religious NGOs||Religious NGOs as Percentage of Total|
|ECOSOC (2000) 1||2,000||180||9.00%|
|ECOSOC (2003) 2||2,060||175||8.50%|
|DPI (2003) 2||1,460||184||12.60%|
|ECOSOC (2008) 3||3,183||320||10.05%|
|ECOSOC (2012) 4||3,937||339||8.61%|
|UNFCCC (2009) 5||1,322||25||1.89%|
|UNFCCC (2019) 6||1,975||56||2.84%|
|COP Interfaith Liaison Committee (2013-15) 7||N/A||~30||N/A|
|COP 24 (2018)||1,120||42||3.75%|
|COP 24 (2018) 8||1,120||58||5.18%|
|Faith||ECOSOC (2000) 1,5,7||ECOSOC & DPI (2003) 2,5,7||ECOSOC (2008) 3,5,7||ECOSOC (2012) 4,5,7||UNFCCC (2019) 5,7|
|“Other” 6 & “Spiritual” 6||9%||9%||10%||7%||N/A|
|Continent||Total COPs (2012–2021) 1,3||Percentage of Total (2012–2021)||Total COPs (1995–2021) 2,3,4||Percentage of Total (1995–2021)|
|Australia & Oceania||0||0%||0||0%|
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