Can philanthropy bridge the global climate leadership gap?

International climate action is falling far short of what is needed due to the lack of coordinated leadership beyond top-down UN-led efforts. Joining together bottom-up, green growth initiatives is a promising way forward, but it will require new collaborations and leadership on a global scale. What role could philanthropy play?

The gap between what governments have pledged and what science tells us is required is vast, but recent assessments also tell us that bridging this gap is possible with existing technology and at affordable cost. So what’s the delay?

There is huge potential for additional coordinated bottom-up action outside the UN process, and many initiatives by sub-sovereign and non-state actors are now under way. But while there is collaboration, what is lacking is the global coordination that could be the key to bridging the gap by 2020. This is the basis of an approach called ‘Wedging the Gap’, proposed by climate experts Ecofys in a recent Nature Climate Change article.[1]

The approach advocates connecting existing global initiatives through a super-coalition covering 21 key themes (or ‘wedges’) which together could bridge the emissions gap. Wedges cover familiar themes ranging from the reduction of supply-chain emissions and deforestation to improving access to renewable energy and  clean cookstoves. Each wedge already has efforts under way led by organizations and coalitions that could be part of the super-coalition. Importantly, they are also driven by interests beyond emission reductions, such as job creation, health improvement, social inclusion and resilience.

Could philanthropy provide the global coordination that is needed to bring these initiatives together? This would require collaboration among donors on a scale not yet seen. Individual foundations could align their efforts, independently supporting specific ‘wedge’ initiatives that fit their interests while ensuring that, together, they are contributing to a coordinated global effort. Pooling some resources for coordination and aligning the strategies of foundations not directly addressing climate would also be needed.

The next step would be for a group of foundations to join with participating initiatives and organizations in establishing and steering the super-coalition. Plans are currently under way for convening a roundtable discussion to bring key parties together for this purpose.

There is still time to bridge the greenhouse gas emissions gap, but to succeed we will first have to bridge the global leadership gap. In this, philanthropy surely has a defining role to play.

1 K Blok et al, ‘Bridging the greenhouse-gas emissions gap’, Nature Climate Change

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