How to help combat climate change as a philanthropist

Leaders and non-governmental organ­isations across the globe have declared climate change as the single biggest health threat facing humanity[1].

Yet in spite of this stark warning, com­batting climate change has historically received woefully little of our philan­thropic attention, with just 2% [2] of global philanthropy being dedicated towards it. In Asia, the world’s most vulnerable region to the adverse consequences of climate change [3], that figure is less than 1% [4].

However, this landscape is changing rapidly and ever more philanthropists are addressing this imbalance in their philanthropic portfolios and asking how they can do more. We are seeing this amongst our clients and are helping them to answer the big question: ‘what can I do?’.

1. Adopt a climate lens to your existing philanthropy

Climate change will impact virtually everything we care about, across all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Develop­ment Goals [5]. Whether you fund the arts or social justice initiatives, are active in the Nordics or Sub-Saharan Africa, on land or in the sea, climate change threatens to undermine your work and compound the issues you are involved with.

All philanthropy is for nothing unless we have a world fit for living in
— An unnamed philanthropist

Adopting a climate lens to your exist­ing philanthropy essentially involves exploring the link between your field of work and climate change.

  • The first step is to analyse your philanthropy’s carbon footprint. If you have an endowment, how is it invested? If you have a foundation or entity, how is it run?
  • The second step is to look at how your grant making intersects with climate change on two key fronts: how can it help to prevent climate change and how climate change will impact it.
  • The third step is to consult and work with your partners. Raise awareness among your collab­orators and encourage them to review their own activities and align everything from their carbon footprints (direct greenhouse gas emissions) and investments to their future projects with net-zero emissions targets, ideally within the next two decades.

2. Allocate a percentage of your annual grant capital to climate initiatives

If your grant making to date has not been focused directly on areas related to climate, allocate a percentage of your annual budget towards this space, in areas such as:

  • Protecting the environment and nurturing the health of our oceans – Trees are our planet's natural air purifiers—pulling carbon directly out of the atmos­phere. Our oceans have absorbed about  one-quarter of the CO2 that humans create, and generate about half of the oxygen that we breathe [6]. Supporting those non-governmen­tal organisations (NGOs) working to restore and protect these ecosystems can play a vital role in combatting climate change.
  • Funding social and political change – Philanthropy can help inspire social change through think tanks, education initiatives and grassroots activist-led organisa­tions. It can also help to   encourage policy change through advocacy, research studies and communica­tion campaigns.
  •  Empowering new and old inno­vations – Indigenous land encom­passes about 22% of the world’s surface and overlaps with areas that hold 80% of Earth’s biodiversity [7]. These communities play a vital role in developing climate resilience projects. At the same time, new in­novations and approaches are being developed by inspirational social entrepreneurs, whose discoveries an solutions benefit immensely from philanthropic seed funding.

3. Fund via a collaborative

‘If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilase our planet, working together we are powerful enough to save it’ – Sir David Attenborough at COP26

The causes of climate change are wide­spread and complex and its impact on our global communities and planet are and will be profound. Individuals, communities, companies and govern­ments must work together towards rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions if we are to have any hope of avoiding the worst outcome scenarios.

Because of this, a number of funder collaboratives, giving circles and investment pools have sprung up across the globe to make it easier for philanthropists to engage and amplify their impact, together. Entities such as the Environmental Funders Network, The India Climate Collaborative, Phi­lanthropy for Climate, the European Philanthropy Coalition for Climate, the China Environmental Grant­makers and many more are enabling funders to amplify their voice and impact.All philanthropy is for nothing unless we have a world fit for living in

If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilase our planet, working together we are powerful enough to save it
— Sir David Attenborough at COP26

4. Leverage your investments, your business and your influence

Research suggests that a cumula­tive investment of USD15 trillion in alternative technologies between now and 2050 is required in order to meet the Paris Agreement goals [8]. In 2020, global philanthropic donations were estimated between USD1-2 trillion, far short of what is needed. In the same year, global financial wealth reached an all-time high of USD250 trillion.

Historically, investing and giving were two distinct activities, often managed independently with little or no interaction between them. Today, investment and philanthropic capital are becoming increasingly aligned. Instead of allocating only 1–5% of capital per year in pursuit of their impact goals through philanthropy, ever more clients are leveraging the entirety of their assets in pursuit of a more sustainable future.

In addition to their investments and philanthropic capital, philanthropists are also often in the unique position to leverage their social and political capital, which in some instances can yield arguably greater results. And finally, for those who are business owners, ensuring that their carbon footprints and activities are ‘the change you want to see in the world’ has the power to reverberate across societies and industries.

Regardless of our means, humanity and the planet cannot afford for us as individuals to do nothing while wait­ing for governments alone to provide the climate solutions the world needs. Now is the time for all us to mobilise our resources and make the climate challenge a core part of our diversified efforts. And although we stand at the start of a complex road, we are all on this journey together.

[1] World Health Organisation, 2021

[2] Climate Works Funding trends 2021: Climate change mitigation philanthropy 2021

[3] International Panel on Climate Change, Sixth Assessment Report 2021

[4] Harvard Kennedy School, Perspectives on Philanthropy in 21st Century China 2018

[5] https://sdgs.un.org/goals

[6] C. L. Sabine et al., The oceanic sink for anthropogenic CO2. Science 305, 367–371 (2004)

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