Climate change: A common concern – EFC session gives wake-up call to foundations


Caroline Hartnell

Caroline Hartnell

Caroline Hartnell

Global emissions have to peak by 2020 if we are to avoid the two-degree temperature rise above which the human race faces increasingly dire prospects. Farhana Yamin from CIFF (Children’s Investment Fund Foundation) started her presentation with this chilling reminder. That’s just eight years from now. Can we turn the global emissions ship round in that time? (In Belfast, where the Titanic was built, ship metaphors were legion.) And what can foundations do? Clearly climate change needs to be a common concern if we are to beat the looming 2020 deadline.

The session opened on a sombre note. The good thing about it, though, was that it covered such a wide range of activities to help combat climate change that it really did provide something for any foundation wanting to contribute. As Yamin stressed, we need an agenda that breaks down climate change into manageable bits that every foundation can address. Here are just some of the ideas that were put forward and examples of what foundations are doing:

  • Foundations already active on climate change can increase their grantmaking – an obvious point.
  • Foundations can look at their investment policies with a view to supporting the wider green economy. ImpactBase offers funds supporting things like access to energy in Latin America. In UK building the Social Stock Exchange is creating a competing financial market to offer investors alternative assessments.
  • Foundations are too afraid of politics: they should support campaigning. Governments are the main players and need to be held to account. We also need better evidence and more public support to help our political leaders, at present conspicuously failing, to address the issues.
  • Small foundations can look at what their grantees do and how it affects climate change.
  • Foundation can use their capital as leverage, using their power as shareholders to influence companies they hold shares in to move from carbon energy to renewable energy. Netherlands-based Fonds 1818 provides a good example here.
  • A very small JRCT grant helped to demonstrate that UK carbon emissions are not counting the cost of importing to the UK – so we’re offshoring a large part of our emissions.
  • Steven Burkeman, facilitating, stressed the importance of groups working with children, disabled people, poor people, etc to start talking about climate change. What environmental groups say can too easily be dismissed; you know what they are going to say. Having just become a grandparent himself, he stressed the key ‘grandparents constituency’: having grandchildren gives you a stake in the distant future – a feeling I can identify with strongly from my own experience.
  • Foundations need to focus on adaptations – this is going to be needed whatever happens.

The second panellist, Mark Campanale, talked about the Carbon Tracker Initiative. Kickstarted by a £3,000 grant from the Tellus Mater Foundation – ‘Littlest things can grow into greater things’ – the initiative is now funded by the Polden Puckham Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

While more capital than ever before is going to renewables, said Campanale, it’s not nearly enough. Meanwhile the London markets are devoting massive amounts to fossil fuels – 70 per cent of IPOs are related to fossil fuels. But we can only afford to burn 20 per cent of fossil fuels currently listed on the stock exchanges. If we burn everything currently financed, we are heading for a catastrophic six degrees of warming. Capital is flowing rapidly to the wrong places because fossil fuel companies are massively overvalued.

If we can undermine the fundamental logic of investing in fossil fuels, valuations of companies selling fossil fuels will fall and flows will start to go to renewables. ‘Rifle shots from strategic philanthropists can achieve a great deal.’ Data on funding of fossil fuels is lacking, said Campanale, and politicians need this data at a time when financial market reform is occurring. ‘Take the chances offered by financial reform,’ he said. ‘Go away and learn to love your bank manager and start to talk about these issues.’

So what are foundations doing? According to Jon Cracknell of JMG Foundation, just 0.7 per cent of UK foundation money was directed to climate change mitigation in 2009/10. The equivalent figure in the US is 1.3 per cent. The cost of saving one of the Titian oil paintings for the UK (£45 million) was more than UK trusts and foundations spent on climate change mitigation over three financial years.

So how can foundations begin to get involved? One obvious way is to plug into one of the existing networks. The EFC has its European Environmental Funders Group. There is the UK-based Environmental Funders Network and the US-based Environmental Grantmakers Association. For more ideas, see the UNEP report Bridging the Emissions Gap.

Farhana Yamin warned of the danger that we move from denial to despair – we need to do positive things to address the issues. This session provided an abundance of ways to do this.

Caroline Hartnell is editor of Alliance

Tagged in: Carbon emissions Climate change EFC Conference

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