This is one of Alliance’s specially commissioned 25th anniversary articles, each reflecting on philanthropy’s past and looking ahead to its future.
What has been achieved in 25 years of climate philanthropy and how far do we still have to go?
Twenty-five years ago, international climate campaigning was emerging from the broader environmental movement. At the time I was a student, with a passion for learning about environmental change which led to a career in carbon offsetting and green energy, before joining the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) in 2013. Over the years I have witnessed the climate philanthropy community develop in response to the crisis, however, the scope for greater action remains huge.
CIFF started its climate change programme in 2010, having realised that if you really want to make a difference for children and people living in poverty you have to tackle climate change.
The establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 rooted climate change as an environmental issue in international politics. At the same time the evolving climate movement found strength in environmental causes, helping cement the idea of climate as an environmental issue. This framing had benefits. In 1992, for instance, the UN Rio Earth Summit looked at climate change as it set principles for improving and protecting the environment. Five years later nations gathered in Japan to agree the Kyoto Protocol that asked for industrially advanced countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5 per cent by the period 2008-12.
Through the 2000s, the movement gained momentum via events like the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, with thousands of rallies held around the world to call for a global agreement on climate, which sadly fell short of the mark. Looking back, one might argue that the movement was too focused on the environment and lacked diversity, being invariably urban, white, middle-class and based in the Global North.
CIFF started its climate change programme in 2010, having realised that if you really want to make a difference for children and people living in poverty you have to tackle climate change. Alongside other large funders like the Oak, Hewlett, Packard and Sea Change Foundations, we came together in the Funders Table to share ideas, learn from each other and align resources around priority climate mitigation strategies.
In the coming years funders will need to tackle the root causes of climate change and create the pressure for action by bringing in new and important voices – particularly from the Global South and young people who will inherit the planet.
We galvanised civil society efforts in the run-up to Paris in 2015 and the historic agreement that set the world on a better path to decarbonisation. Last year, in spite of the pandemic, we saw big commitments with the EU, Japan and South Korea pledging to reach net zero by 2050 and China before 2060. Philanthropy supported the strategies and funding that was needed to push for these things to happen.
However, there is simply not enough money going to the fight against climate change. Less than 2 per cent of global philanthropy goes to mitigating climate change and while it isn’t the only source of funding, we know that it can play an essential role in catalysing the trillions of dollars of public and private funds that are needed to transition to a low-carbon future.
2021 is a crucial year as we look towards COP26 in Glasgow in November, the first meeting in a five-year cycle where governments will be asked to report on progress and ‘ratchet’ up ambition, with clear, specific and measurable 2030 targets to meet the 2050 goal to keep the planet below 1.5⁰C. Climate philanthropists can support work to make this happen and help the climate community to collaborate strategically. For example, we would be happy to discuss our support to the Climate Emergency Collaboration Group (CECG) which has been created to enable funders to collectively leverage key international moments in the global response to the climate emergency. CIFF is currently working with CECG and others to incubate a Global Recovery Network. That network will improve campaigning in important pilot countries such as Brazil, Australia and South Africa to help drive green and just recoveries, stimulate climate action and help neutralise opposition to ambitious outcomes from COP26.
If you are a funder looking to get involved, I would encourage you to do so as quickly as possible. There is no one approach and the opportunities are vast.
Philanthropy can help to build the necessary infrastructure. Alongside other global climate funders, CIFF has invested in regional climate foundations like the European Climate Foundation, iCS in Brazil, ICM in Mexico, Tara in South East Asia and the African Climate Foundation, and to thematic re-granters such as the Clean Air Fund and the FILE Foundation. Such re-granters provide deep geographic, cultural, or issue-specific knowledge and connections and ensure that civil society leaders across a range of issues can be part of constructive climate conversations. This will create the holistic approach we need to succeed.
Over the next 25 years, it is critical that climate is not seen as just an environmental issue. A changing climate cuts across all social and economic issues from gender to poverty. In the coming years funders will need to tackle the root causes of climate change and create the pressure for action by bringing in new and important voices – particularly from the Global South and young people who will inherit the planet. This will make the climate movement bigger, more sophisticated and more compelling.
If you are a funder looking to get involved, I would encourage you to do so as quickly as possible. There is no one approach and the opportunities are vast. Identify what resonates with you and how you can have an impact, match your ambition to the scale of the problem and commit for the long term. The IPCC has said we have roughly ten years to limit the worst effects of climate change. Organisations like Active Philanthropy and the Climate Leadership Initiative have been set up to help you.
In another 25 years we will be four years away from the 2050 deadline that the world is focused on. Let’s hope that we’re not looking back and asking why we didn’t do more when we could.
Sonia Medina is executive director, Climate, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.