Philanthropy must engage with the ‘Action For Climate Empowerment’ agenda


Alice Amorim and Amiera Sawas


A global transformation which is just, rapid, and in line with reducing warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius is not possible without people. For too long, people from all walks of life have been left out of the picture of envisioning and driving that change. Net Zero targets, Nationally Determined Contributions and other essential climate policies rely a lot on people taking different actions in different ways – but very little has actually been done to engage them at national scales.

Article 12 of the Paris agreement – called ‘Action For Climate Empowerment’, or ACE, calls on parties to focus on education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation. ACE puts people at the heart of climate action and policy-making, whilst supporting their agency and empowerment to do so. Done effectively, this could transform and catalyse the response to climate change worldwide. 

At COP26, in Glasgow, negotiators agreed to a 10-year ‘Work Programme’ to ensure that there was coordinated and strategic action to significantly improve ACE work. The Glasgow Work Programme (GWP) aims to socialise ACE across the entirety of climate action, by ensuring policy coherence, encouraging and supporting coordinated action, mobilising tools and support, and implementing monitoring, evaluation and reporting processes. This is an important step in building both awareness of its importance to the overall climate action agenda. This is an important step in building awareness of ACE’s importance to the overall climate action agenda, and to strengthen the necessary political will to implement ACE effectively.

What needs to happen?

The Glasgow Work Programme on ACE is ambitious. Translating that ambition into a clearly defined, well-resourced, and planned set of activities is the next frontier. With the urgency of that in mind, here is what is needed to substantially improve and strengthen outcomes for the 6 ACE areas:

1. Developing ACE national strategies: There is an urgent need to support governments to prioritise and implement ACE in their countries. The GWP specifically calls on all Parties to develop national strategies that facilitate collaboration and partnerships between and across sectors and with citizens, politicians and policymakers, community leaders, and industry and business partners.

2. Resource mobilisation and technical assistance: To do public engagement meaningfully is to do it inclusively, to ensure diversity, and through a rights-based approach. It requires human and financial resources, and time.

3. Establishing a common baseline for monitoring and reporting: Parties must come together to jointly agree on a basic set of indicators – so that it is possible to see (and celebrate) where progress is being made, and where more support is needed. 

One of the biggest challenges in realising the ACE agenda is political will. ACE remains at the bottom of most national priorities and is not integrated into activities intended to achieve other elements across the spectrum of the UN climate change accords. ACE activities and portfolios are critically under-resourced around the world, preventing National Focal Points on ACE from initiating effective action plans or undertaking key activities such as leading the development of the ACE National Strategy. In fact, civil society actors have consistently taken the lead and led much of the implementation and innovation of ACE-related activities.

How can philanthropy contribute?

Philanthropy is an important player in strengthening the international climate regime and can potentially help catalyse the development of the ACE agenda. Its contribution to shaping climate politics around the world has been much bigger and less visible than announcements of new climate funding resources at COPs. Its strategic role derives from several sectoral characteristics.

First, philanthropy operates with a broad territorial spectrum – ranging from the very local to the global level. Many players have been very active in building and reinforcing ownership of the sustainable development agenda at the local level. This expertise can be very synergistic with the participatory processes needed to build meaningful ACE strategies.

Secondly, the sector has been very active in supporting civil society and in promoting more democratic, transparent, and accountable political processes. Its contribution to the emergence and strengthening of climate-driven civil society organizations are noteworthy. Philanthropy support for the fight against the shrinking spaces for civil society to operate has been critical to giving more visibility to the importance of the sector in strengthening democracies. The emergence of climate citizens assemblies in Europe, supported by European Philanthropic institutions, is a concrete example.

Thirdly, philanthropy has been playing a catalytic role in unlocking other resources – knowledge, finance and political capital– to reach more sustainable social impacts. These efforts have been so far directed more to other policy goals such as education, health, and arts, but why not for strengthening democratic processes in climate actions? 

As the global philanthropic sector starts its journey of climate mainstreaming, understanding how philanthropy and civil society can help create more resilient and participatory climate policy making is critical. The global #PhilanthropyForClimate movement, launched in 2021, provides a good opportunity for non-climate philanthropists to take steps forward from intentions to actions that can lead to effective climate empowerment. The movement is gaining momentum and already counts 550 foundations as signatories, mostly not climate funders, present in 18 countries.

Supporting projects with all the elements of the ACE agenda – education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation are already somehow at the heart of the philanthropic sector. As the sector commits to taking urgent action on climate change, it is now a matter of understanding how to connect the dots.

Alice Amorim is the #PhilanthropyforClimate Lead at WINGS. Amiera Sawas is Director of Programmes at Climate Outreach.

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