Climate change is the largest and most pervasive threat to both people and the planet. Yet, too often funders still tend to think of climate change as siloed in our analysis and responses, or a purely environmental issue, divorced from social issues and strategic missions.
This is rapidly shifting – over the last few years, the philanthropic space has begun to examine its impact on the climate and the environment more broadly, including through participation in the DivestInvest movement. Climate-proofing our foundations is an important contribution to the fight against climate change. How we can adapt our investments and operations to reduce climate risk and mitigate emissions will become an increasingly more important question.
At the same time, human rights and social justice funders understand that applying a climate-lens to their strategies will further their core missions, be that economic justice, LGBTQIA+, women’s rights or disability rights. In fact, it is the only way we can collectively tackle the climate crisis, and also continue to inspire change in the areas we were set up to address and for the communities we seek to serve. Now is the time for bold action and philanthropic leadership in positively shaping our societies, and advocating for large-scale change.
But what is a ‘climate lens’? This is a question the sector has collectively been tackling for the last couple of years. We are beginning to find and refine answers, and as more foundations embark on their journeys to integrate climate into their strategies, the field is growing and our expertise becoming stronger.
The following are four first steps funders can take as they set out on this journey. These are based on what I see emerging in conversation with many social change funders who are actively in the process of applying a ‘climate lens’ – building their expertise and capacity to respond to the climate emergency. Suffice it to say there is no one size fits all approach (is there ever?), and we all have to go on our own unique journeys. I look forward to hearing how these resonate (or not) and how we can collectively strengthen our work in this area.
1. Analyse how your foundation’s specific interests and concerns intersect with climate change and where climate change is having or will have an impact on your priorities and strategies. The first step towards this is to consult your grantees and their partners about how they are already experiencing climate change in their lives and work. One exemplary initiative here is the new Climate Action Fund by the National Lottery Community Fund, which offers existing grantees top-up funding to create opportunities and spaces to develop their own responses, and help shape the funder’s. Then, connect to actors in the climate space who are already analysing and working on the intersections of climate change and climate justice, like my own organisation, Global Greengrants Fund.
As part of your analysis, consider the stakes and discuss with your staff and trustees what the likely future impact of ignoring climate change may mean for the delivery of your foundation’s mission. Conversely, what are the opportunities you see that a focus on climate change can bring to enhance your mission?
2. Map your funding against key climate change-affected geographies and gaps in climate funding. As part of this, ask yourself how much you are investing in climate-fragile or highest-emitting geographies (in your own country and further afield) and carry out a risk analysis – in which ways does climate change add risk to your mission fulfilment, and how does your funding add or reduce risks for your grantees in these geographies? To help with this, check out existing mapping of climate funding and where the gaps are (for instance the annual mappings by the European Environmental Funders Group or the UK Environmental Funders Network); how does this align with your foundation’s interests and concerns?
Finally, bring in experts both from the professional and lived experience spaces to help you figure out your place on the map.
3. Collaborate and coordinate. Climate change is a complex and interconnected issue. Appreciating that no one can work on everything, who are the natural partners for your foundation and what could such a partnership look like? Connect to existing forums for climate change funders – the above environmental funders groups in Europe, including a new climate funders sub-group of the Environmental Funders Network, the Environmental Grantmakers Association in the US, or the new climate justice community on the Ariadne platform. Learn about existing intersectional collaborations like CLIMA Fund, Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action, and others, and how you might become engaged or learn from their approach. And finally, find out who is funding your grantees’ work on climate change already, and how you could exchange or develop co-funding with these funders.
4. Capture your learnings and thinking, and share it with others – you are not alone on this journey, whether established foundation or new trust, and together we are building a new philanthropic field. So bring on the case studies and narratives!
Eva Rehse is executive director at Global Greengrants Fund UK