Rapporteurs: Robin Collins, Karen Hamilton and Fergus Watt
- Civil Society should concentrate on informing the public, to pressure governments
- International Campaigns are influential when they are credible, expert and sophisticated
- There is a place for both CSO activism, and CSO collaboration with governments
- Civil society alliances must understand how multilateral institutions make and alter policy
- Observe: Interconnectedness of issues.
- Democracies have obligations to listen to civil society. What about autocracies and undemocratic governments?
- International civil society, working with small and medium governments through the UN General Assembly, has the ability to drive change, even without big powers.
- The international system is still based on sovereign governments as the primary actors. A good idea without a critical mass of governments in support won’t get very far.
- Civil society can mobilize public and political support across boundaries and with various stakeholder constituencies in ways that governments can’t.
- Civil society organization is much more effective when there is a high degree of prior agreement among constituent CSOs on the outcome(s) being pursued. The more focused the campaign, the more effective the outcomes.
This overview focuses on multilateral institutions that relate to existential threats such as war/nuclear war (peace and disarmament) and climate change.Read more
Multilateral institutions are a wide variety of multiple country formations that occupy many significant global sectors. The key player is the United Nations, because it is universal and is comprised of all 195 states. Linked to the UN, either directly or indirectly are trade and finance based groupings, such as the World Trade Organization, The International Monetary Fund, the GATT and the World Bank (the so-called IFIs); the International Labour Organization, environment and health based organizations, such as the IPCC (climate change) and the World Health Organization; human rights, legal (such as the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, and the system of human rights and humanitarian treaties); disarmament and security or military groupings (such as the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty, NATO); and regional groups (such as the Organization of American States, the G7, the African Union, ASEAN, etc.)
Civil society organizations (CSO) — also known as Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO) — are “private, not-for-profit organizations that aim to serve societal interests by focusing on social, political, and economic goals, including, inter alia, equity, education, health, environmental protection, and human rights”, to which we could add peace, disarmament and global governance.(1)
Global Policy Dialogue
Organized civil society at least in democratic countries has been developing increased access to and influence upon governments. This is not entirely a modern phenomenon, but it has grown since the end of the Cold War, when the competition between two key global powers and their allies subsided and allowed for broader and more open exchanges.
Tony Hill wrote, “What is striking about [the Cold War] period is how little actual engagement there was of INGOs in the work of the UN. NGO forums may have been organized around UN Conferences, but they remained more or less autonomous, commenting on UN deliberations at arm’s length. There were some exceptions to this, in particular the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, and the work of International Coalition for Development Action (ICDA) and others that engaged in the North-South Dialogue for a [New International Economic Order] (under UNCTAD auspices) through the 1970s and early 1980s.”(2)
Earlier legacy organizations included anti-slavery groups, the Internal Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent after the 1850s, and Save the Children, Oxfam, and Care after WWII.
What Hill described as a second generation CSO upsurge arrived post-Cold War after the appearance of major World Conferences and Summits through the 1990s: “Large numbers of non-governmental actors, in particular, national NGOs from developing countries, from the Western hemisphere and, albeit to a lesser extent, from East-Central European post-communist societies, appeared around the major UN Conferences on Environment and Development, Population and Development, Human Rights, Women’s Rights, Social Development, Human Settlements and Food Security, and their preparatory and follow-up processes.”
Even in some undemocratic states, or in democratic states with less transparency in governance, there was evidence of a norm-setting effect driven by civil society — if not domestically, at last through external influence. That is apparent, for instance, in cases where civil society groups have been able to articulate widely-held concerns about global risks and existential threats — particularly in the areas of war, nuclear war, climate change and environmental degradation.
There is strength in numbers, and individual groups that are members of international alliances, are often even more effective because they benefit from the influence and breadth of broad multinational CSO campaigns.
Hill continues: “Today, an unprecedented number and variety of civil society and business-related organizations participate in the work of the UN system. At the political level, the UN has shifted from an organization in which only governments spoke to only governments, to one that now brings together the political power of governments, the economic power of the corporate sector, and the ‘public opinion’ power of civil society (and the global communication and information media) as participants in the global policy dialogue…”
Different civil society alliances have different characteristics. Some are protest groups, typically antagonistic to governments and some of these see themselves as vulnerable to cooption if seen to be too close to governments, either politically or through financing. Other groups believe in partnerships with governments and were established to use their expertise (that elected officials must learn) and longevity (they are usually not subject to election cycles), to both educate the public and influence government policy. The accusation of cooption has been leveled at CSOs but also governments seen to be too close to “special interest groups”. As Max Cameron suggests in an essay(3) on the land mine ban campaign, if there were evidence of government being held hostage by CSOs, then “one would have to argue that the government was somehow constrained by the NGO community… There is little evidence that [Canadian foreign minister] Axworthy’s initiative [for a land mine treaty in a year’s time] was due to pressure from NGOs — most of whom were as stunned by the announcement as were government officials. In fact, this was one of the few moments during the movement to ban landmines when a government official was out in front of the NGOs”.
Our expectation is that the more radical the CSO position, the less likely is the effectiveness of its advocacy and later implementation directly into government policy. However, what appears to be “radical” in one age, can become commonplace in another. Sometimes radical shifts are required, particularly to stave off imminent humanitarian or existential threats, such as the risk of nuclear war or the wide range of impacts from climate change on populations, migration, agriculture, weather, coastlines and the environment. Activist pressure may be mandatory where governments seem uninterested in, or incapable of, making progress on their own initiative without clear, wide public support.
Opportunities to Influence
Civil Society alliances are increasingly visible because of their size, their growing sophistication, and their access to both governments and citizens. They have multiplied in number and outreach, not only because of improved governance and funding channels since the end of the Cold War, but also because of the internet and social media technology. Networks usually agree to a limited number of shared basic assumptions and principles in order to attract a maximum number of endorsing organizations. Broad network positions on issues, by seeking majority or consensus views among member groups, will blunt outlier positions held by more marginal or radical members, and thereby solidify campaigning priorities. These positions become clearer and more credible, even if no more palatable to government policymakers, or to a wider range of states. Improved coherence and better articulation also increase the clout of civil society influence, particularly when the statements can be said to be the views of hundreds, if not thousands of individual civil society organizations spread globally.
Some civil society organizations also have significant penetration into developing countries, and much more so than in the past. However, part of the rise of CSO has been due to a positive relationship that has been built between civil society and governments. CSO often act as the conduit through which government largesse is funneled to their publics. For example, it is estimated that by 2003, the US distributed only 15% of its resource flows through direct government assistance, with 85% coming through CSO. One study suggests that the global non-profit sector “could rank as the world’s eighth largest economy.”(4)
CSO can be tied (beholden) to governments by way of funding arrangements and contracts for service. “In 2001 CARE International received almost 70% of its $US420 million budget from government contributions. A 1998 survey showed that a quarter of Oxfam’s income came from the British government and the EU. World Vision in the United States collected US$55 million worth of goods from the US government. In the same year Médecins Sans Frontières got 46% of its income from government sources.“(5)
Undemocratic governments (or reluctant democratic governments) will be leaned upon by international civil society groups, in order to effect change, or at least to influence their choices. There are many examples of norm-setting standards being adopted by a wide range of states holding different relationships with civil society. “Amnesty International’s campaign to develop an international norm against torture, for instance, was facilitated by Sweden’s actions in drafting and submitting UN resolutions”.(6)
Sometimes the initiative towards change originates in government policy discussions and is then expanded and publicized by civil society. For example, in 1993, it was France that convened discussions about compliance with provisions of the CCW (Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons) related to antipersonnel mines. It was within the CCW that land mines were restricted, but where limits on use were seen to be mostly voluntary, and unenforceable. As the Arms Control Association describes it: “The [CCW] convention aims to protect military troops from inhumane injuries and prevent noncombatants from accidentally being wounded or killed by certain types of arms… [However, the] convention lacks verification and enforcement mechanisms and spells out no formal process for resolving compliance concerns.”(7)
Limitations such as these within existing multilateral fora were emphasized by disarmament and humanitarian campaigners, but (in one significant example) while listening to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) goal of an elimination treaty effort by 2000, it was then the Canadian government that called for an antipersonnel mine ban treaty in 1996, to be signed one year later. The complementary goals of civil society and activist foreign ministers meant that progress was possible more quickly than without that collaboration. As Pallas and Uhlin underline, “states are still the primary members of the vast majority of global governance arrangements and [therefore] CSO participation and influence often rely on state sufferance and support.”(8)
In his essay, “Democratization of Foreign Policy: The Ottawa Process as a Model”, Max Cameron suggested that the Ottawa Process (the collaboration between experts, civil society and like-minded forward-looking governments) opened up foreign policymaking to a broader section of society. The antipersonnel mine issue attained public status, not principally through the leadership of governments in the early stages (although there were active governments), but from the persistence of non-governmental organizations and their in-your-face diplomacy, and in particular for their regular attention to public sympathy for victims. Cameron writes: “Advocates of democratization should rest their defense of civil society-government partnership on publicity, not on participation”. CSOs shouldn’t presume a seat at the multilateral table will always be available. International civil society organizations should focus on making existential global threats better known to publics, and make them a political liability, so that governments will act, where and when they can be swayed to do so.
There remains a debate between those who believe that CSO operate independently from states and even compete with them for control over norms and ideas. This aligns with the perception that global governance democratization is expanding because of the rise in profile of civil society. But others argue for the “persistent power of the state.” Pallas and Uhlin found that CSO influence on international organizations is enhanced by the use of a “state channel”, but there is a risk that because CSOs from powerful states have more influence within IOs, there can be a democratic deficit in the representation of smaller and “global south” states, and distortions in the process. Therefore, the more porous, democratic and inclusive is the international civil society alliance, the more improved the outcomes.
Peace and Disarmament Coalitions
“Humanitarian impact” campaigns were organized against weapon systems (through disarmament CSO) such as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), and a variety of nuclear weapon abolition advocates within large international coalitions (including Abolition 2000, the Nobel Prize winning International Campaign to Abolition Nuclear Weapons [ICAN], and activist legal, science-based and medical groups, such as the International Pugwash movement which has existed since 1957, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, founded in 1980, and the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, 1988). All three of these ban campaigns arose recently (since 1992 for ICBL when it began as a group of six organizations; it since has become a several-thousand group network and has amalgamated with the CMC).
The campaign influence on governments varies. Where a weapon system may have been seen as expendable or not core to security and defence doctrines (such as land mines and cluster munitions), it has been easier to develop consensus and momentum to dispose of them, and particularly after the impact on innocent civilian victims (killed or injured) was publicized. Once a significant number of like-minded states were onboard, there followed a growth of the weapon prohibition movement far beyond the original activism. This has been seen not only as an influence of civil society upon government choice, but also the expansion of norms against certain kinds of weapons globally. There would not likely have been a campaign or treaty to eliminate cluster munitions without a ban on landmines preceding it. That is not only because of the similarity in their weapon impact and detonation profile (antipersonnel mines when they function correctly, and cluster submunitions when they fail), but also because of the overlap in campaigners, campaigns, governments involved, and the snowballing of “humanitarian” disarmament legitimacy more generally. In particular, the world began to see civil society representatives sitting in on disarmament talks and in United Nations debates as standard practice. The expectation for transparency and CSO participation was reaching a fever pitch. While that vision has had setbacks and disappointments, it seems likely that credible civil society involvement in international policy discussion at a high level will continue to grow. There are the beginnings of a campaign against “killer robots” (lethal autonomous weapons). The recent expansion in campaigning against nuclear weapons (driven by ICAN, a General Assembly resolution, and 122 allied governments), is up against remaining resistance to giving up nuclear stockpiles (or even discarding at-ready, high alert, launch under attack, status) by both nuclear weapons states and nuclear-umbrella states, such as “non-nuclear” NATO members which continue to defend NATO’s strategic concept and nuclear deterrence framework.(9)
A lot has been written about the improved relationship between civil society campaigning groups and states. That relationship for the Ottawa Treaty (Antipersonnel landmine ban) and the CCM (Convention on Cluster Munitions), formulated as the Ottawa and Oslo Processes, has been lauded for the role of “like-minded” states, and “middle powers” working to find shared outcomes with INGOs (international non-governmental organizations).
Bolton and Nash11 have outlined an important role for middle powers in forging relationships and policy in the space made available for civil society groups by states. Middle powers, they argue, “often play the role of innovating norms, providing third party mediation, advocating multilateralism and championing generous foreign aid appropriations”. (To this can be added the scale factor that enables intermediate sized states to exploit their bilateral connections with larger states, but also their greater credibility with small states, and often also financial resources supplied to CSO.) The agenda-setting role, however, retains a deference to what big power ministries of foreign affairs and governments are willing to put up with, for they are, after all, still “the signatories of international law, they have armed forces, they have the power and resources to enforce and fund implementation.” And for one disarmament campaign, (what should be self-evident), “without the endorsement of Norway, Ireland and other states, the Convention on Cluster Munitions would never have come to fruition.”
A key strategy has been to emphasize the precautionary principle (in effect a use of medical terminology) and to “reframe” the debate, rather than try to “win arguments whose structure put the humanitarian case at a disadvantage”.(10) For that reason, CMC needed to find governments friendly to their prevention and elimination approach, and that were willing to work around some of the traditional national security and military discourse.
The relationship between dominant states, middle powers and civil society is still being worked out, and while the powerful still run the show, middle powers “have demonstrated, through joining forces with NGOs, they have actually succeeded in augmenting their power to project their interests into the international arena. This obviously sometimes comes at a price, with NGOs demanding policy changes, donor funding and diplomatic support in return. However, many middle powers consider their expanded global profile and power worth the cost.”
Civil society influence only goes so far. As John Barrie described in his history(11) of the cluster bomb campaign, in the early development of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the founding meeting by a subset of organizing groups was launched in November 2003 by the Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, even though Dutch enthusiasm for a ban was not high at the time, as they made very clear to the forming coalition. Scheffer in 2004 later took on a five-year stint as NATO’s Secretary General.
A few critics of the Ottawa Process in To Walk Without Fear, noting its reformist and collaborative character, imply that naive NGO ban advocates did not realize who they were dealing with. NGO-government collaboration, wrote Miguel de Larrinaga and Turrene Sjolander, “can only reinforce existing practices”. In other words, this was a zero-sum game. By dancing with the devil they argued NGOs ultimately lost credibility while treaty-friendly, middle-power governments gained humanitarian currency.
On the other hand, critics such as David Lenarcic, expressed concern that NGOs had been given undue influence over government policy throughout the Ottawa Process: “Canadians might want to ask themselves if this `new, private order’ makes for a government that is more attuned to their national concerns or one that has become beholden to unaccountable special interest groups”.(12)
On the nuclear weapons ban front, collaboration between certain states and civil society has continued, resulting in recent years in the formation of the TPNW (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons). It is almost certain that governments would not have taken on this project, absent the ICAN alliance and its prodding. It is important to remember that governments leading the state side of this effort were not identical to those involved in the previous anti-personnel mines and cluster bomb efforts. Notably absent were NATO countries, including Canada, Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Belgium, and Denmark, not to mention nuclear weapon-possessing Britain, and France.(13) NATO has stated that the TPNW is “at odds with the existing non-proliferation and disarmament architecture, risks undermining the NPT, and is inconsistent with the Alliance’s nuclear deterrence policy.”
In the late 1990s, a standing committee report (stimulated by the peace organization, Project Ploughshares) called on the Government of Canada to “argue forcefully within NATO that the present re-examination and update as necessary of the Alliance Strategic Concept should include its nuclear component”. The government response to the report’s recommendations was positive. Nuclear weapon abolitionists then pressed the Canadian government to advance the disarmament agenda both inside NATO (by pressing for a review of its Strategic Concept) and inside the United Nations (by supporting a leading group of pro-abolition states known as the New Agenda Coalition). While government ministers, Cabinet and members of Parliament were divided on their level of commitment to abolition, activist Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy spoke out often within Cabinet. Douglas Roche established and chaired an organization, the Middle Powers Initiative (MPI), which acted as a communications bridge between the New Agenda (non-NATO) states and non-nuclear members of NATO. In 1998, a significant breakthrough occurred when all but one (Turkey) of the non-nuclear weapon NATO states abstained on, rather than voted against, a forward-looking UN resolution proposed by the New Agenda. In 2002 and again in 2003, Canada voted in favour of the New Agenda Coalition resolution. By several measures, Canada has in the past shown a willingness to take the “abolition” lead within NATO, although that leadership was seen to wane, particularly during the Harper government years, and since then.
The Climate Action Network International has over 1100 member groups in 120 countries. While devoted to combating harmful climate change, the network sees its mission as supporting and empowering “civil society organizations to influence the design and development of an effective global strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure its implementation at international, national and local levels in the promotion of equity and sustainable development.”
CAN-I’s Charter makes clear that members are autonomous and independent and “have their own forms of organization and their own national or regional rules.” High level CAN-I decisions are made at General Assemblies convened at least every two years.
The Paris Agreement came into force in 2016 with a goal to keep the average global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The UN body known as the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was established by the UN Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988. It comprises 195 states and is the primary international focus for climate change advocacy. The core objective of the IPCC is to “provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies.”
Civil society networks involved in this area cover a wide range of subject categories, including development, environment, faith and energy, and some also advocate for “the Rio+20 process and the Millennium Development Goals. A human rights based approach to international climate change negotiations is also being pursued outside the UNFCCC [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992] process by some networks.”(14) Many groups are advocates for vulnerable populations in the “global south”, where climate change has had (or will have) a particularly dramatic and early impact on community and individual well-being, due to environmental damage, crop risk, coastline destruction, loss of access to water, erratic weather, and in some cases resulting conflict escalation.
Civil society groups have been successful in criticizing governments where they have failed to implement necessary policy changes, but they should also commend governments when they follow through with their commitments. While international civil society networks see their strategic role as spurring governments to action, the IPCC is the technical focal point through which thousands of climate scientists annually summarize new scientific papers to provide what is known about “the drivers of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and how adaptation and mitigation can reduce those risks.”
Civil society alliances have not only been significant in driving governments towards the Paris Agreement, but they are key for the implementation of what is to come in the climate change Action Agenda. As “climate champions” Laurence Tubiana, French Ambassador on climate change, and Hakima El Haité, Moroccan Minister in charge of Environment emphasize, 80% of the implementation of climate action decisions rely on non-State actors. “I think it is very important for all of us to recognize that the non-State actors are already moving and there are many [actions], initiatives and coalitions and they are very active [in.] This is the first time we are building a real partnership between the non-State actors and the [state] actors. We think it is very important to have these partnerships.” For many years walls have been built “between the negotiators and the parties and the real world and the non-State actors. Today we need to build bridges between them.” Tubiana saw climate as a part of the development agenda: “There is one agenda that governments must implement, and this new development model should really be supported by the citizens, the businesses, the financial sector in each country, and internationally.”(15)
Civil society and the development of the International Criminal Court
The role played by civil society in the development of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and later, contributing to the entry into force of the treaty and also to the functioning of the Court, is often cited as an important example of the positive influence of civil society organizations can have in the development of the rule of law and international justice.
The International Criminal Court was established by treaty on July 17, 1998, following a five-week negotiating conference in Rome. There are now 122 states that are party to the treaty, although some of the world’s largest powers (e.g. China, India, Russia, United States) are not parties. The Court is mandated to try individuals, including military and political leaders, for the worst criminal offenses under international law – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.
An ICC was intended to be created after World War II, as a successor to the Nuremberg trials and the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals. However Cold War international tensions prevented negotiations for such a permanent court from getting started. At the end of the Cold War, Trinidad and Tobago proposed a Criminal Court that would work to combat international drug trafficking. However, when the proposal was submitted to the UN’s International Law Commission, the ILC recommended a court with jurisdiction over the more universal atrocity crimes that are of greatest concern to the international community.
Civil society organizations have long understood the nexus between peace and justice. The organization of citizen groups interested in forming a permanent international criminal tribunal was carried out primarily through the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC). Beginning in 1994, when the ILC report was debated in the General Assembly, CSOs organized to keep the proposal alive and then for the commencement of treaty negotiations. The UN hosted treaty negotiations from late 1995 through until the successful Rome treaty conference in 1998.
Small and medium-sized governments
Prior to Rome, civil society worked closely with a group of “like-minded” states. It was this group of small and medium-sized governments that helped implement some of the most important treaty provisions and that grew to form an overwhelming majority in Rome at the negotiations and eventual vote to establish the treaty.
- In the course of the negotiations, CSOs lobbied for and brought about many innovations in international humanitarian law. Not least was the inclusion of a series of “gender crimes” including criminalizing rape as a war crime.
- Civil Society was united in support of what was referred to as an “independent and effective” court, meaning that it would be independent of the control of the UN Security Council, and that the ICC Prosecutor would have proprio motu authority to initiate cases on his/her own initiative.
Civil society roles
During the Rome treaty conference civil society played a significant role. Over 400 individuals attended the five weeks of negotiations. Coalition members were organized in teams, corresponding to chapters of the draft statute under negotiation. These teams monitored negotiations in their topic area, wrote reports that were shared on a real time (next day) basis, and discussed strategy. The coalition was often called the “best informed delegation” in Rome. And as government delegates were required to maintain confidentiality of their negotiations, the Coalition press briefings and communiqués were the primary influence on what the outside world heard and thought about the negotiations. The CICC shaped public and political expectations. The information developed by the CICC was also shared strategically with foreign ministries, parliamentarians and other opinion leaders in national capitals.
With a few minor exceptions, all the main CICC requirements for a good treaty outcome were achieved. After the adoption of the Rome Statute, civil society was again instrumental in the campaign to bring the treaty into force. The Rome Statute requires that state parties also harmonize their domestic legislation with treaty provisions. Yet the required 60 state ratifications were achieved in less than four years – a remarkably quick time. Civil society organized seminars and regional meetings for foreign and justice ministry officials from states with an interest in ratifying the treaty. Often this campaigning involved CSOs and media in target countries.
Today, the ICC is still a new institution. Its recent activities have not been without controversy. Critics have pointed to the selection of initial cases that have come before the Court, some questionable jurisprudence, failure by some governments to follow through with domestic prosecutions, and lack of cooperation from the UN Security Council. Civil society has once again responded, leading calls for an independent review of the Court’s functioning, a development that is expected to get underway at the 2019 Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute.
The potential of the court is only beginning to be understood and utilized. The development of the Rome Statute system represents the increasing centrality of the individual in international law. Growing and nurturing mechanisms of individual accountability for international crimes are seen as essential aspects of the “human security” system that can eventually evolve to displace an international order based on the primacy of war and weapons of mass destruction.
The ICC treaty is a remarkable achievement in its own right. But it also serves as an example of successful civil society mobilization.
There are many ecumenical and interfaith coalitions globally, representative of civil society perspectives, raising justice issues in ways that impact their particular constituencies but are also very much addressed to and with the purpose of influencing global institutions.
Some of these coalitions, including The World Council of Churches and The Parliament of the World’s Religions, have been in existence for decades, and in the case of the latter, over a century. Many coalitions are more recent–there has been a plethora of very credible interfaith coalitions created in recent years.
Their messages are distributed through public statements, the mobilizing of their constituent base and direct contact with global organizations such as the UN.
They focus on a variety of issues, including ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and relationships and the ameliorating of conflict amongst faith traditions, but they all have a very strong focus on justice and concrete work is done on the crucial issues of war/nuclear war and climate change.
Detailed below are four representative organizations/coalitions/bodies that are either of long-standing reality, have extensive global reach, have particular relationships with the UN or governments and/or are vibrantly active at this time.
1. The World Council of Churches: In existence since 1948, based in Geneva, and created very much out of the context of the existential threat of WWII, the WCC currently has 350 member churches, representing much of the global Christian reality. The Catholic Church is not an actual member but is very involved and is a major funder so a looser definition of membership that includes the Catholic Church, means that most of the world’s Christians are represented by the WCC. The WCC also has close relationships with bodies that are not members, such as the World Evangelical Alliance.
The work of the WCC is very focussed on Peace and Justice, with specific statements and concrete actions on such issues as nuclear war, small arms, disarmament etc. It is very in tune with, and advocates globally around, disarmament treaties. WCC is also very involved in climate issues. It is of substantive note that the ‘first among equals’ of the Orthodox Tradition, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, (the Greek Orthodox tradition being a very active part of the WCC), is called ‘The Green Patriarch’ for his strong, influential and Church-wide emphasis on climate issues.
2. Religions For Peace: Religions for Peace are an Interfaith body based in New York but with global reach and also in dialogue and relationship with the UN. It is not nearly as large as the WCC but has good, senior interfaith representation and is active globally in many contexts.
3. The Parliament of the World’s Religions: This is the longest standing of the bodies to be in existence–over 100 years–but had a long period of dormancy between its inauguration in 1893 and more recent decades. It recently met (November 2018) for the first time in Canada, in Toronto, with 8500 people in attendance, and participation from over 100 faith traditions and approximately 80 countries. That Parliament gathering resulted in statements, key note speakers such as John Ralston Saul and Margaret Atwood (who focussed specifically on the effects of climate change on women) and workshops. Project Ploughshares was a workshop presenter.
4. The 2010 Interfaith Leaders Summit: The Leaders summit is representative of an initiative begun in 2005 and currently still very active. There are many statements available from this interfaith engagement with the G8/G20. An example is the 2010 Interfaith Leaders Statement to the G8/G20 formulated and delivered to the G8/G20 when they met in Canada in 2010.(16)
In the beginning, this interfaith initiative directly paralleled the G8 meetings, and met just before the political G8 meetings. They presented the G8 with a consensus letter signed by the global representatives of the major faith traditions involved. There were also such initiatives as a major letter in the Financial Times signed by the global faith leaders. As the issues addressed moved to become topics of the G20, the global interfaith leaders met in the country hosting the G20, just prior to those political meetings. For much of the history of these related events, there has been an intentional focus on three issues that have carried through all the statements demonstrating consistency and persistency on the part of the faith communities–the MDGs/SDGs, justice and peace with a concrete focus on small arms, and climate change.
Endnotes for this article can be seen at the Footnotes 4 page on this website (link will open in a new page).