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The Growth in the Number of NGOs in Consultative Status
with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations



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Graph of the Numbers of NGOs in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council for each Year from 1945 to the latest available year for which data has been published.

Changes in the Names of the Three Categories of NGOs

Note on the Roster of NGOs attending the Commission on Sustainable Development

The Raw Data on the Numbers of NGOs

Notes on the Raw Data

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Graph of the Numbers of NGOs in Consultative Status with the UN
Economic and Social Council for each Year from 1945


The Growth in the Number of ECOSOC NGOs

Reference for the original source

The graph was first published in P. Willetts (ed.), "The Conscience of the World". The Influence of Non-Governmental Organisations in the UN System, (London: Hurst and Washington: Brookings Institution, 1996), p.38.
      It has also been included in the first to sixth editions and the ninth edition of J. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owens, The Globalization of World Politics, (Oxford: Oxford University Press) and in
      P. Willetts, “NGOs as insider participants: evolution of the role of NGOs at the United Nations”, Chapter 4 of A. Kellow and H. Murphy-Gregory, (eds.), Handbook of Research on NGOs, (Cheltenham UK and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar, 2018), p.72.
      This web version was last updated in May 2022. Due to the impact of the COVID pandemic on the work of ECOSOC’s Committee on NGOs, the figures for 2020 were somewhat lower than they would otherwise have been and there was no comparable data for 2021.

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Changes in the Names of the Three Categories of ECOSOC Consultative Status
1946-501950-681968-961996 - ...Type of NGO*
Category ACategory ACategory IGeneral StatusGlobal, large membership and work on many issues.
Category BCategory BCategory IISpecial StatusRegional and general or specialist and high status
Category CRegisterRosterRosterSmall or highly specialist or work with UN agencies


* The specifications in this table of the type of NGO in each category are drawn from ECOSOC Resolution 31/96 of 25 July 1996, paras. 22-24. However, in practice, the specifications have not been rigorously applied. In particular, many of the General Status NGOs do not have membership “in a large number of countries in different regions of the world”. Some are from just one continent or even from a single country.

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Note on the Roster of NGOs attending
the Commission on Sustainable Development

If the graph shown above is compared with the original version in the 1996 book (cited above), it is readily apparent that the data for 1994 shows a significant change for the number of NGOs given as being on the Roster.

By ECOSOC Decision 1993/215 of 4 March 1993 any NGO accredited to the UN Conference on Environment and Development “could apply for and should be granted Roster status” with ECOSOC. The Secretariat failed to implement this decision and created a separate category of NGOs that were on the Roster solely for the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development. A total of 550 NGOs – listed in UN document E/1993/65 – applied for “CSD Roster status” and were endorsed by ECOSOC Decision 1993/220 of 26 May 1993. At its next session, the CSD objected to the exclusion of these NGOs from the other ECOSOC bodies. Then ECOSOC, by Decision 1994/300 of 29 July 1994, endorsed the Commission’s recommendation to give them full Roster status. On this basis, the 550 NGO were included in the graph, when the book was published.

However, the Secretariat continued with not implementing these decisions. The matter was finally disposed of by Decision 1996/302 of 26 July 1996 that overturned decisions 1993/215 and 1994/300. The practice of having a CSD Roster was endorsed explicitly for the first time, but these NGOs from Rio were also given a fast-track procedure for inclusion on the main Roster. Thus, in this version of the graph the extra CSD NGOs have not been included, unless they have gained full Roster status for all ECOSOC subsidiary bodies.

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The Raw Data on the Numbers of NGOs in Consultative Status
with the UN Economic and Social Council for each Year from 1945

Data for the Graph
from 1945 to 1950
YearA,B+CCat A+BCat A


Data for the Graph
from 1951 to 1968
YearA, B+RegCat A+B  Cat A  


Data for the Graph
from 1969 to 1996
Year  All   General 
+ Special 


Data for the Graph
from 1997 to 2008
Year  All   General 
+ Special 

From 2009 onwards, new procedures have been systematically applied to NGOs that have failed to submit their quadrennial reports within a year of the submission deadline, resulting in their suspension for twelve months. In a handful of cases, temporary suspension has also occurred because of political objections to aspects of the NGOs work. Those that fail to submit reports for two years lose their accreditation. All such cases of suspension or loss of accreditation are deleted from the figures below and from the graph. This decision is a change in the way the data was handled on this web page prior to May 2022.

Data for the Graph since 2009
YearAll General 
+ Special 

The classification of an NGO matters because it determines what participation rights it has at ECOSOC, at its subsidiary bodies and at the Human Rights Council. Those on the Roster have minimal rights, those with Special Status NGOs may gain the right to speak at meetings and circulate documents and those with General Status can, in principle, go further and propose items for ECOSOC’s agenda. (For more details, see P.Willetts, “The Conscience of the World”, Chapter 2, and Non-Governmental Organizations in World Politics, Chapter 2.)
      The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the work of ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies from April 2020 onwards. Face to face meetings were avoided for many UN bodies. On 3 April 2020, by Decision 2020/205, ECOSOC adopted a “silence procedure”, whereby decisions during April and May 2020 could be drafted by consultations with the President of the Council and then circulated to all members of the Council. If there were no objections during the following three days, the decision would be considered to have been adopted. A series of further decisions were taken to extend the silence procedure, month by month, until ECOSOC finished its 2020 Session. Afterwards, the procedure was applied “during the 2021 Session”.
      The NGO Committee held its 2020 Regular Session in January and February 2020 as normal. The 2020 Resumed Session, scheduled to occur in May and June 2020, was first of all postponed to August 2020 and postponed again until the end of the year. This was not only due to the constraints caused by COVID-19, but also the normal “Paperless Committee” system could not operate, because the information technology used by the Secretariat’s NGO Branch had been hacked in June. A single meeting, with a very limited agenda, was held on 27 November 2020. The Committee’s recommendations on “suspension, withdrawal and re-instatement of status” were endorsed by ECOSOC on 15 December 2020. The remaining business of the Committee’s 2020 Resumed Session was transferred to the 2021 Regular Session, which was authorised to hold eight additional meetings.
      No list of NGOs was produced in 2020, but the figures given in the table above and used in the graph are derived by using the 2019 data and updating it with the decisions on accreditation of NGOs taken by ECOSOC on 18 June 2020, using the silence procedure, and on 15 December 2020, with its first formal meeting since the pandemic had started. It is just a matter of chance that the figures for 2019 and for 2020 are virtually the same. This arose because the number of newly accredited NGOs (274) plus the re-instated NGOs (56) was just one different from the number of NGOs suspended (187) plus those that had their consultative status withdrawn (142).
      As of May 2022, the NGO Committee had held a 2021 Regular Session in May and June 2021, and its report was considered by ECOSOC on 21 July 2021. A report on its 2021 Resumed Session was issued on 20 September 2021 and then withdrawn on 25 October 2021. None of the data from the 2021 sessions will be used until the situation becomes clearer.

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Notes on the data on the numbers of NGOs,
obtained from the ECOSOC documents


  1. The NGO Branch of the UN Secretariat’s Department for Economic and Social Affairs provides administrative support to the ECOSOC NGO Committee, to NGOs applying for consultative status and to NGOs using their participation rights. One aspect of this is to provide an annual “List of the non-governmental organisations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council”, after the NGO Committee has completed its annual session. To download copies of these lists, from 1998 onwards, click here.
  2. Each year the NGO Committee considers new applications for consultative status. The great majority of the applications are approved, but this can sometimes take two or three years, particularly if the applicants do not initially provide adequate information about their work, their membership or their finances. Sometimes an NGO may come into conflict with a government, usually by being critical of the government’s human rights record or “interfering in its internal affairs”. This may lead to their application being rejected by the NGO Committee, but often the full Economic and Social Council reviews the report of the NGO Committee and overturns their decision by awarding consultative status to the NGO.
          In July 2021, the reverse situation occurred. The Committee had recommended that International Association for the Development of the Abaza-Abkhaz Ethnos “Alashara” should be approved, but the decision was overturned by ECOSOC and referred back to the Committee (Decision 2021/246). The Georgian government, with strong support from the Ukrainians, objected that this was a Russian NGO, which operated in the Russian-occupied Abkhazia region of Georgia and questioned the territorial integrity of Georgia (see E/2021/SR.12).
  3. The Committee also makes recommendations on requests by NGOs on the Roster to be upgraded to Special Status or for NGOs with Special Status to be upgraded to General Status. On rare occasions, an NGO has been upgraded from the Roster directly to General Status.
  4. Every four years, NGOs are expected to provide a written report on their activities, to justify their accreditation to ECOSOC. On 21 July 2008, ECOSOC passed a resolution to provide for NGOs that had not submitted their report within twelve months of the due date to be suspended for a year. Then, if they still had not submitted a report after two years, they should have their consultative status withdrawn.
          For the years from 1946 to 2008, the numbers of NGOs given above and plotted on the graph are the total accumulation of approvals and re-classifications over the years, along with an irregular process of deleting from the list some NGOs that were no longer active at the UN.
          From 2009 onwards, there has been a systematic review every year, with the suspension of large numbers of NGOs that are more than twelve months late in submitting their quadrennial reports on their activities. Those that do not submit their reports after a total of two years have their status withdrawn. This is reflected in the numbers given above and plotted on the graph, by excluding suspended NGOs, from 2009 onwards. In previous publications of this graph, these suspensions were not deducted from the figures. Consequently, the graph now shows fewer NGOs in consultative status than the previous figures for 2009 to 2015.
          While most of those suspended are small NGOs, a few have been large global NGOs. If suspended NGOs submit their quadrennial report during the year when they are suspended, their consultative status is re-instated. A very small number of NGOs has been suspended for political reasons. When this happens, the NGO concerned “shall be given written reasons for that decision and shall have an opportunity to present its response for appropriate consideration by the Committee as expeditiously as possible” (ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31, para. 56).

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© Peter Willetts 2022. The graph and the text on this page may be freely used for non-commercial purposes, provided that a reference is made to both to the author and to this web page       It may also be used for commercial purposes, if in addition the author is informed, but no charges will be made.

Page maintained by Peter Willetts [   P dot Willetts at city dot ac dot uk   ]
Emeritus Professor of Global Politics, City, University of London

Page created on 28 September 2001.
Last amended and updated on 26 May 2022.