Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation is a large community foundation in Melbourne, Australia, with an endowment of Aus $255 million. We hold strategic and donor advised funds and aim to respond to the changing needs of the community. In Melbourne, our priorities are lack of affordable housing, growing wealth inequality and most importantly climate change. Melbourne’s average temperature has risen 1.47°C since national records began in 1910 (State of the Climate, Bureau of Meteorology, 2022). The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a warmer winter and spring. This forecast is influenced by a number of factors, including warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean beyond El Niño thresholds, the potential development of a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, and record warm oceans globally.(BOM, 15 June 2023)
In 2016, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation placed a climate lens across our granting. This followed an opportunity to attend an international philanthropy Funders Initiative alongside COP21 as part of a delegation from the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network. This changed my perspective on climate change. I could see that climate change would affect everything we fund and that we should be adding requirements to grants that would assist in reducing emissions, increasing resilience to climate impacts, and also support a climate transition that could lead to a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation was the first Australian member of F20 and we have learned from high-level meetings, online workshops and shared resources. We are also a member of WINGS, the worldwide network for grantmaker support, which has also led work on climate change philanthropy. The Foundation was the first Australian signatory to the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change.
In mid-2023, our commitment to climate action remains strong. Climate change philanthropy recognises that climate change is not only an environmental issue. It is a social, economic and health issue too. As we transition to a zero-carbon economy, philanthropy has a special role to play in supporting a just transition. We have supported ACOSS’ (Australian peak body for the social services sector) Fast and Fair Transition project, the Sydney Policy Lab for the Real Deal project in Geelong, and Regen Melbourne. We see a growing focus on climate justice across our work.
We require all affordable housing projects that we fund to demonstrate a commitment to sustainable, climate safe design and high energy efficiency ratings. Ozanam House was the first project with this commitment and it remains a good example. Other affordable housing projects we have funded have followed. Last year, Renew, a small NGO that catalysed a network of organisations, played a major role in achieving the first increase in emissions rating standards for new housing via the National Construction Code – from 6 to 7 stars under the National Housing Energy Rating Standards. The Foundation supported Renew’s policy work for five years knowing that significant change takes time. This was the first time in ten years the energy efficiency requirements for new housing were increased.
Our work in food transitioned over the last ten years from a focus on food security to an understanding that we needed to support a sustainable and secure food system. We have funded the FoodPrint project at the University of Melbourne for many years. FoodPrint has mapped Melbourne’s food bowl, identifying where important agricultural land is at risk on our urban fringes and where opportunities to drought proof through recycling water is possible. This critical work continues with key government agencies and community organisations. The FoodPrint work is internationally renowned. Foodprint Melbourne | Faculty of Veterinary & Agricultural Sciences (unimelb.edu.au)
In addition to this policy work, The Foundation is also funding sustainable food projects and networks, including most recently capacity building for the Willum Warrain Aboriginal Bush Nursery and a challenge grant to Sustain to purchase a community food hub.
In 2019, we embraced the concept of a Clean Technology Powerhouse as advocated by Prof Ross Garnaut in his book Superpower (La Trobe Uni Press, 2019). In addition to the work of Beyond Zero Emissions and many others, we supported the Smart Energy Council to run webinars with experts from around the world to share and gain knowledge about these opportunities. Last year we introduced the Next Economy Jobs Initiative which is focused on job creation projects and social enterprises working in renewable energy, green waste, clean tech and other sectors where jobs will grow in the future, for example, the caring sector. This Initiative has expanded with grants to social enterprises such as Green Collect (circular economy), Sustain: The Australian Food Network (urban farm food justice and training network) and Sweet Justice (employment in bee keeping for young offenders). We have also supported other social enterprises to test, start up and scale up. For example, we have funded Good Cycles for many years to test and develop new business arms. They started repairing bikes and are now contracted to provide city services via eBikes around the city of Melbourne.
Health & Resilience
The Foundation has a long history supporting positive health outcomes for Melburnians. We have supported Climate and Health Alliance for many years, which has led to national policy in this area and reduction in emissions in health services. We recognise that health issues can be directly linked to climate change, especially in preparing for and responding to heatwaves. Older women, children and people with physical disabilities can be especially vulnerable to heat and those facing financial disadvantage are less likely to be able to afford to cool and insulate their homes.
The experience of the last few years with bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic and floods has demonstrated the critical importance of the charitable sector, especially local organisations responding to the needs of local communities. The Foundation will continue to support organisations as we face more unstable weather conditions.
Some of you may have read about our Hot Spots project where we have been working with vulnerable communities to ensure they are not left isolated in hot homes during heatwaves. This has extended to a powerful piece of work Climate Action in the West by Jesuit Social Services’ Centre for Just Places which sets out an action plan for the west of Melbourne. A step change has also been our new Climate Resilient Neighbourhoods Initiative.
In the face of a changing climate and increasing inequality, it is clear that we need to reduce our emissions and strengthen community resilience in ways that address inequities. We have a profound opportunity to shape a more caring, healthy, regenerative, and just future for all, by combining transformative climate change adaptation and just transitions. The IPCC calls this aspiration ‘climate resilient development’, others call it climate justice.
Applying this idea at a local level, climate resilient neighbourhoods are those that support everyone’s good health and well-being, ability to adapt and change, disaster resilience, and ability to live low to zero emissions lives. The Foundation is moving this idea from inspiration to demonstration of how such places might look, feel, and function through our Climate Resilient Neighbourhoods Initiative. The first set of grant recommendations will be considered by our Board next week (contact for more information on this work: firstname.lastname@example.org).
As a community foundation, the Foundation listens to the Melbourne community, experts and our collaborating organisations and gathers data to inform our work. We also learn and exchange ideas with our colleagues in philanthropy here and overseas. We know our climate transition requires a collaboration across all sectors. Philanthropy has a special role supporting people facing disadvantage and funding innovative programs and policy.
I expect more Australian philanthropic foundations to be embracing a climate lens across their philanthropy. I also anticipate more discussion and action about where philanthropy can make the most strategic difference in the climate challenge, especially activating philanthropy’s special role in funding innovation and reaching local communities.
Since we began working with a climate lens six years ago, the urgency for climate action has only grown. We have focused on positive steps and on long-term collaborations so that through our work we are building resilience and demonstrating what is possible in our transition to a zero-carbon economy.
Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation will be working on climate change until a just transition is achieved.