Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation in Australia decided to give climate change a bigger space in its work in 2016, when it began integrating an environmental lens across all its grantmaking and projects. That step – inspired by action surrounding 2015’s COP21 in Paris – has led it to where it is today: everything from their work supporting vulnerable households to improve the energy efficiency and climate resilience to planning to decarbonise its endowment by 2030.
As Alliance magazine’s June 2021 issue looks at climate philanthropy ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, we partnered with the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change to ask a number of organisations around the world: what is philanthropy’s role in addressing climate change at this critical moment?
CEO Dr Catherine Brown OAM joined Alliance to talk about the work of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.
Alliance magazine: Has your organisation made any commitment to climate action or joined a climate pledge?
Catherine Brown: Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation in Greater Melbourne placed a climate lens across all our granting and initiatives in February 2016. The climate lens means that we consider climate change impact and opportunities in all our granting areas, from energy efficiency to sustainable food, from community resilience to health impacts, and from affordable housing to employment.
Most recently we have committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2030 across our investment portfolio and our operations.
What encouraged your organisation to start its climate journey?
Our climate journey ramped up following the participation in the Funders Initiative alongside COP 21 in Paris, which was a delegation of philanthropic foundations working on climate change led by the US Environmental Grantmakers Association and the European Climate Foundation. I am also the Deputy Chair of the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network who suggested she join the delegation. The Funders Initiative delegation met people from around the world directly affected by climate change, including farmers concerned about food security and quality; Pacific Islanders worried about rising sea levels; health professionals concerned about heatwaves, natural disasters and disease, and others.
At COP21 we heard directly from City Mayors and other civil society leaders about the work they were doing to reduce carbon emissions. As the community foundation for Greater Melbourne (pop. over 5 million) this was a thought provoking but inspiring experience. After a very intense ten days of learning, it was clear that climate change would impact everything. I decided that this should inform our granting from here on: We needed to apply a climate lens across all our grant programs. I discussed this with the Board at our February strategy day and this new strategic direction was supported. We appointed staff with expertise in relevant areas and have continued to grow our collaborations and knowledge so that we can be well informed partners and funders. We are most concerned about climate change impacts on vulnerable communities.
Can you share an example of the changes that your organisation has made in its embrace of climate work?
We placed a climate lens across all our work. We appointed staff with knowledge of climate and environment so that we now have a Program Manager Environment & Sustainability who manages four key priorities including energy efficiency and sustainable food systems and a Program Manager Health & Resilient Communities who manages three priorities including community resilience and the health impacts of climate change. We joined other relevant networks, such as F20 and are active members of the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network – and are learning all the time.
In this key decade for climate action, many are recognising the intersection of climate with other areas of work. How are you integrating a climate lens into your other focus areas?
We don’t just consider homelessness, we require sustainable, energy efficient standards when funding affordable housing. We work on sustainable food systems and the health impacts of climate change. We support community climate resilience – preparing for heatwaves, emergencies, and natural disasters; and we fund social enterprise and employment opportunities that are emerging and will grow in a low carbon economy.
These are the questions we ask ourselves as we work on our granting recommendations and initiatives. We know that vulnerable communities and individuals will be more impacted by climate change, and we see this as an important focus for the Foundation.
Is there a way to encourage a reduction in carbon emissions in this project, including running costs?
Example: 6 or 7 star Green star requirements for any new affordable housing we fund.
Will this impact area be affected by climate change? What should we be anticipating and funding now?
Example: The increasing incidence of heatwaves in Australia is having a major impact on health and have led to our Hot Spots initiative.
Are there opportunities to enhance our work to achieve more benefits for disadvantaged groups as we undertake a just transition to a zero carbon world?
Example: New employment opportunities in clean technology, sustainable agriculture, green construction etc.
Has your work in the climate sphere inspired you to change the way you are investing your endowment? Why or why not?
Yes , we are planning to decarbonise our investment portfolio by 2030. It makes sense for our investments to align with the impact we are working towards in our granting and initiatives. We have recently elevated this work for the coming financial year.
What kind of impact have you seen your climate focus having already? If you have a story, please share it.
While we are interested in reducing emissions overall, we have a particular interest in supporting vulnerable households to improve the energy efficiency and climate resilience. The Energy efficiency and vulnerable communities initiative has grown over the last few years and has recently been replicated by the Victorian State Government in its recent post COVID Big Housing Build program. While this initiative has reduced carbon emissions as one impact, it also achieves co-benefits including better health and better-quality low-income housing.
Australia has among the highest per capita emissions in the world due to our reliance on fossil fuels for power, heating and in industry. Australia is also experiencing an increasing incidence of heatwaves which is especially challenging for people in inefficient housing stock (some housing in Australia is below 2 stars on National Housing Energy Rating Stands) and who have additional risk factors such as older age, very young age, or existing medical conditions.
It was clear that climate change would impact everything.
The Foundation’s support is focused on direct subsidy or housing upgrade programs; influence of relevant policies, regulations, and codes; and research to better understand energy poverty, temperature-related risks, residential greenhouse gas emissions and measures to reduce them.
Some outcomes to date:
- A housing upgrade program is being rolled out to 125 houses that provides solar panels, insulation, efficient heating/cooling and improved service provision, to the most vulnerable. Recipients are identified by hospitals and other services based on temperature sensitive health conditions and income level. Our partners in this include Renew, Brotherhood of St Laurence and St Vincent’s Hospital.
- The Victorian Government introduced $797 million in funding to support the uptake of renewables and energy efficiency across the residential sector. The government funding was influenced by a range of Foundation partners, including the Smart Energy Council, Monash University and Brotherhood of St Laurence.
- A national coalition of more than 65 organisations has been funded to advocate for much improved minimum energy performance and climate resilience of Australian homes, which will benefit more than 50 per cent of houses by 2050. State and National Ministers have so far agreed to enhanced energy efficiency provisions in the National Construction Code. Additional work is being undertaken to improve existing homes, including minimum rental standards and disclosure of energy performance at points of lease and sale.
- Foundation funded research has found that extreme heat is a far greater threat for most Australians than cold weather and that these deaths have been historically bee under-reported up to fifty-fold. This is an important finding, as historically governments have focused more on winter-related health impacts.
What are some of the challenges you have encountered so far in your climate work?
Climate change has been a difficult issue at times in Australia although the community is starting to see the great opportunities that lie ahead if we can transition to a clean technology and clean energy superpower, as proposed by Prof Ross Garnaut. The Foundation recognises many co-benefits for the community, especially those that are vulnerable, in areas such as employment, health, wellbeing, and economic inclusion through acting now on climate change.
How did your organisation convince its board to take on climate work or applying a climate lens framing to work in other areas?
As CEO, I present strategic opportunities to the Board each year and together we decide what the Foundation’s priorities should be for the coming years. Following my participation in the EGA/ECF supported Funders Initiative alongside COP 21, I was well equipped to explain that climate change was an issue that was already having an impact on communities around the world and that it was a major challenge that we should support.
Philanthropic foundations have a particular role to play in the climate transition as we are independent and have the interests of vulnerable communities and the broader community at the core of what we do. We can also fund innovation so that new ideas and solutions can be tested.
Do you think philanthropic foundations should be held to account for their climate commitments, such as with an independent climate action tracker? Why or why not?
We have begun engaging on our own decarbonisation pathway both in our operations and in our investments. This will be a journey to net zero emissions by 2030. We would be open to being part of a process that tracks climate action across philanthropic foundations.
Do you have any advice to share with other foundations embarking on their own climate journey?
Think about climate change as a lens across your existing granting priorities. It is not necessarily about changing everything you do. It is about thinking about the opportunities and challenges across your areas of interest. What matters to your community? Where are the major challenges and where are the biggest opportunities? You could start by asking questions similar to those I mentioned above. This is the critical decade for action, and I hope that every foundation around the world puts some of its effort into supporting a climate transition that helps achieve many of the sustainable development goals at the same time.
For more information about the work of Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, visit lmcf.org.au.