Importance of NGOs in UNFCCC

The participation of NGOs in UNFCCC is increasing in significance. Currently, there are around 1,400 non-governmental organizations participated as observers for the annual UN climate change conference (a.k.a COP). The number may increase every year due to the advancement of information technology and greater awareness on democracy.

Thus, have you ever wonder why NGOs participation are important? Please refer below for some of the importance of NGOs in UNFCCC.

Information collection and dissemination

NGOs has much to offer in information collection and dissemination. NGOs representatives are able to admit the negotiation session as observers and gather important information. The information gathered will be compiled daily and produce some useful daily newsletters, such as ECO Newsletter by CAN and TWN newsletter. Despite the differences of each type of daily newsletters, they do provide latest information about the UNFCCC process. Besides, the newsletters also will be available online and anyone with internet access is able to read them. Indirectly, this will raise awareness.

Provide opinion to the decision makers

Research and policy documents done by NGOs were released parallel to the meetings. For instance, Climate Action Network (CAN) submitted an annual policy document titled “The Paris Package: A Springboard for Sustained, Transformative Change” prior to UNFCCC COP21. CAN is a worldwide network of over 950 NGOs in more than 110 countries, working to promote government and individual actions to limit human-induced climate change to ecologically sustainable levels. Some of the highlights of the document are equity and dynamic differentiation, pre and post 2020 finance and 5 year periodic review on adaptation, mitigation and finance. You may read the full document for further insights.

Having said that, the documents produced by NGOs may not be taken into consideration by the national delegates as generally they rely on official channels such as IPCC. Even they read the documents, there is often little feedback and very limited opportunity for back and forth dialogue.  However, there is a chance that the document could shed some light on the problem of climate change.

Transparency and Accountability

The involvement of NGOs increases transparency of the process, thus improves democratic legitimacy of global climate governance. A government or intergovernmental organisation that operates behind the curtain of secrecy is often hard to win, be it the trust or the support of its citizens. Hence, it is a necessity for them to build public support by seeking legitimacy and credibility for the decisions proposed. As Thomas Weiss notes:

“NGOs are . . . capable of making sensitive or politically important information public – something that intergovernmental organizations often are reluctant or loathe to do because of their dependence on member states for resources”

Besides, NGOs may hold decision makers in international arenas publicly accountable for decisions in ways that the intergovernmental system itself could never accomplish. Accountability and transparency are interconnected. Higher transparency will increase the accountability of the process.


Despite these, some of the negotiation process like ADP spin-off group meetings are still limited to national delegates. In other words, observers are not allowed to participate. This lead to the issues of legitimacy and transparency are being questioned. Prof Gurdial Singh from Malaysia and the Chief spokesperson for Like Minded Developing Countries too, brought up this issue during one of the plenary session.

Mobilisation of public

As mentioned earlier, NGOs often have the ability and capacity to disseminate the information. Thus, these could facilitate mobilising public opinion. NGOs can influence the public through campaigns and wide outreach as they often work with grassroots communities or even work together across national borders.  The mobilisation effort can even be amplified with the development of information technology. Information technology such as internet and smartphones ease the communication between NGOs and the public as well.  

Faith based organisation – extra hand

Faith based organisations have the potential in curbing catastrophic effects of environmental degradation. They have the ability to facilitate mobilisation of public opinion. Partha Dasgupta, an economist and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate and atmospheric scientist, together made a watershed appeal to religious leaders, for assistance in stopping environmental degradation due to anthropogenic activities.

“I think that a lot of people see the religious contribution as a cosy topic which we should only discuss on Sunday morning, but it could prove decisive. An organisation like the Catholic Church is remarkably effective at leading a famine relief campaign. These are mechanisms that we should be using to tackle other global problems, including stopping governments from riding roughshod over people’s lives with disastrous effects for biodiversity – Prof. Partha Dasgupta, University of Cambridge”

On top of these, faith leaders also play an active role in combating climate change. Within this year, Pope Francis has signed a common declaration of intent to combat environmental damage, human trafficking and, the launch of first Islamic Declaration on Climate Change.

Written by: Thomas Lai
Edited by : Merryn Choong