COP26, rightly critiqued for its exclusionary approach, will shape how governments respond to the climate crisis. It is also as an organising moment for civil society, and a chance for funders to make public commitments in solidarity with civil society and the climate movement. Ahead of the start of this week, it seems pertinent to take a critical look at the state of climate philanthropy today.
In response to the urgency of the climate crisis, and its impacts on high-priority philanthropic issues from inequality to health, we have seen encouraging growth in interest and funding flows from private philanthropy to a variety of climate solutions. Climate philanthropy as a field is emerging and changing all the time in response to new actors with big commitments entering the space – see the recent $10 billion pledge from the Bezos Earth Fund, $3.5 billion from Laurene Powell Jobs, or $1 billion from Hansjörg Wyss. As a sector, committed to collaborating and aligning strategies to maximise our investments, this poses new opportunities and also challenges.
While the philanthropic response to the climate crisis is growing, recent mapping shows that grants specifically directed towards climate change mitigation still represent less than 2 per cent of total European foundation giving. In the US, climate funding in 2020 totalled 0.5% of total philanthropic spending. By any measure, this seems inadequate to tackle the many interconnected problems that climate change poses for societies everywhere. We also need to understand better where these funds are going, and where the gaps are – the recent call at the EDGE Funders Alliance conference to ‘occupy climate philanthropy’ to ensure a greater focus on climate justice (centring of alternative voices and perspectives) and more spaces for funder/movement organising points to a desire to avoid creating a ‘climate funding silo’; rather, climate philanthropy needs a ‘big tent’ approach in which we all understand the impacts of climate change on our giving priorities, and strategise and collaborate accordingly.
With this in mind, and with the emergence of new big players, both individuals and foundations, we see a risk of polarisation of the climate funding space. At one end of the spectrum are smaller trusts and foundations, as well as global South-linked or -based intermediaries, many of which collaborate and organise together. At the other end of the spectrum are the new climate-focused collaborations, pooled funds and intermediaries set up by large foundations, which offer opportunities for large amounts of funding to align around strategies and investments. As co-organisers of the Climate Funders Group, comprising over 100 individuals from trusts and foundations in the UK, Europe and the USA, we see the COP as a chance also to help build bridges across this spectrum and to understand better where different actors with different risk appetites, decision-making models and influence spheres can best add value. Bringing together large-scale and smaller funders in support of specific campaigns and actions is therefore one aim of funder organising at COP.
While this ‘Covid COP’ is in many ways an unusual one and will perhaps attract fewer funders from around the globe than past COPs, we have been encouraged by the ways in which it has galvanised international funder networks to collaborate and share information and spaces. The various sister networks for environmental philanthropy (Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network, the US-based Climate and Energy Funders Group of the Biodiversity Funders Group, the US-based Environmental Grantmakers Association, Environment Funders Canada, Philanthropy New Zealand, China Environmental Grantmakers Alliance, the European-based Dafne Philanthropy Coalition for Climate and the Environmental Funders Network in the UK) have joined up to share events, resources and communications channels. COP26 has provided a focus point for us to coordinate more actively than ever before and we are looking forward to seeing how our networks might continue to build on this momentum post-COP26 to become more than the sum of our parts.
Whether you will be in Glasgow or will follow along from home virtually, there will be funder organised and funder facing events throughout the two weeks of COP. EFN and partners will provide weekly briefings to keep you updated about the developments inside the negotiations, and Alliance Magazine will report from Glasgow throughout. Our hope is that we can take the opportunity of this moment to collectively continue to shape climate philanthropy – to step up to the challenge of transformative action, and to be the most effective, responsive and relevant to the needs of this and future generations.
Eva Rehse is the Executive Director of the Global Greengrants Fund, and Florence Miller is CEO of the Environmental Funders Network.