2016 US Council on Foundations: De-polarizing climate change


Charles Keidan



There is wind in the sails of the global movement to combat climate change. The 2015 Paris Agreement (a historic commitment of 192 states to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels) has not just focused attention but also crystallized action. Climate change is also high on the agenda of the 2016 US Council on Foundations (COF) conference in Washington DC. COF’s registration papers were limited to a programme and a name badge whilst a conference track focused on climate change.

Sessions spread across the two-day gathering include renewable energy, green finance and climate justice. One opening day panel looked at the Road from Paris. Chaired by Hewlett Foundation’s Erin Rogers, the session explored how the US can put its commitments (including a 26 per cent reduction in emissions by 2025) into practice. Despite the challenge, a note of optimism pervaded. As Reid Detchon of the United Nations Foundation noted, the move towards a low carbon society is increasingly seen as an opportunity rather than a burden. Detchon pointed out that this psychological shift is important because people and countries prefer to share opportunities than burdens. Specific opportunities in the US context include the extension of tax credits by the US Congress to solar and wind power and the introduction of renewable energy standards by 28 states. But Detchon also highlighted challenges on the horizon including the enforcement of fuel economy standards and the creation of clean power plants.

Here, social movements – including movements of unlikely allies and partners – are key. Gilan Perera from New Florida Majority gave a master class in community organizing strategy. Perera explained how connecting climate issues to everyday concerns such as housing created the ‘entry-points’ required to engage people in climate action. The possibility that Miami could be under-water within 50 years also concentrated people’s minds, he noted. Perera also emphasised the importance of aligning diverse groups to create powerful constituencies for change.

Reverend Fletcher Harper of Green Faith made a similar argument in the context of faith based organizing on climate change. By linking climate action to poverty action, and by building a centrist coalition, Harper argued that faith – and faith communities in general – is a critical ally in generating the support needed to ensure effective action to prevent global warming.

At the heart of these alliances is philanthropy. As Erin Rogers reminded us, philanthropy is funding many of these groups by building their institutional capacities and capacity to advocate. Now, Rogers argued, philanthropy needs to ‘double-down’ and build on the momentum and optimism generated by the Paris Agreement. Whilst the panel focused on how to build climate-action alliances in the US context, many of these issues will resonate with funders and activists well beyond its borders.

Charles Keidan is editor of Alliance magazine.


Tagged in: 2016 US Council on Foundations

Comments (2)

Eleanor Besley-Gould

It's such a key time for philanthropy in this sector to grow in line with the unstoppable public and political will. Whilst funding for 'environment' is low relative to other areas of philanthropic giving, it is a group of very well researched and targeted funders who know what they're doing and what they want to achieve. Keeping the momentum up post-Paris is absolutely key and here you show the amazing ways that philanthropy is helping make that a reality. Thanks Charles.

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