With humanity facing ‘Code Red’ on climate change, inefficiency is a luxury we cannot afford. This applies as much to climate philanthropy as to every other part of the movement. There is an urgent need to coax more funding into climate change – it is incredible that, given the scale of the challenge, less than 2% of global philanthropy is deployed to this most existential issue – but equally important that funding is spent in effective ways that bring swift benefits.
Yet for many philanthropists, deciding where and how to channel funding can be daunting when the issue is as multi-layered as climate change. Each country, each sector, each lever for achieving change presents its own challenges and opportunities. But who has the resources to investigate each possible combination? This is especially the case for funders new to the field – and if we are to tackle the climate crisis effectively, we need new funders.
At Active Philanthropy we recently launched an online tool aiming to help philanthropists focus their funding more effectively. Aimed mainly at foundations relatively new to the issue, the online Climate Mitigation Tool helps funders identify ways to accelerate decarbonisation in various sectors, and the best philanthropic levers to achieving change.
For example, if you are interested in decarbonising the building sector, the tool highlights options in three fields: green building practices, retrofitting and a reform of planning processes. It then presents different funding routes to achieving progress in these areas. For example, public engagement is likely to be an effective approach for increasing uptake of LED lighting, whereas progress in dynamic glass (which responds automatically to weather conditions) is more likely via scaling up research and development.
Other approaches such as strategic litigation, direct allocation of capital and communication are also included in the tool, with examples of where they are most likely to be effective. The tool also covers more systemic issues, such as advancing education on climate change and shifting financial markets from fossil to clean energy.
The options we highlight are sourced from two complementary initiatives. One is Project Drawdown, which has forensically researched the emission-cutting potential of numerous technological changes; the second is ClimateStrike Switzerland, whose catalogue focusses on social and political tools for change. Together these portfolios encompass almost 200 solutions.
With this tool, we do not attempt to steer foundations towards individual grantees. Instead we recommend that once you have identified favoured options and approaches, you exchange ideas with your peers in order to refine them and help identify the best initiatives to fund. This is also a great and practical route to increasing collaboration between funders so that resources are applied more efficiently.
Each year brings new opportunities and challenges into play. At international level, after the UN summit in Glasgow we will see attention focus on enhancing carbon-cutting commitments from nations that failed to step up last year, such as Russia, Australia and Mexico. With this year’s UN summit taking place in Africa there will be a fresh emphasis on making Loss and Damage provisions a reality, and delivering effective climate finance to vulnerable nations. The German G7 Presidency and the Indonesian G20 Presidency present particular opportunities, with the new German government keen to speed up decarbonisation across many sectors at national, European and international level, and Indonesia – the world’s fifth biggest emitter – equivocating over a possible coal phase-out.
Philanthropy can and should adjust its overall focus as these new challenges and opportunities come into view. But the task that never goes away is implementation. Many nations have set emission-cutting targets that are reasonably consistent with the Paris Agreement; the problem is, far fewer are currently on course to meet those targets.
The overarching mission for philanthropy, then, is to fund initiatives that will concretely and swiftly advance implementation. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this – in fact, tailored approaches to each individual issue are the way forward. The path to carbon-negative farming in Chile, the strategy for bringing the UK’s home insulation up to standard, moving Swiss investors away from fossil fuels, taking the carbon out of shipping fuels… just a few examples showing that there is no silver bullet but many acupuncture points that bring a sea change only together. This brings me back to the online Climate Mitigation Tool, which presents hundreds of solutions – every one of which is needed and ready for implementation.
If humanity (with philanthropy in the vanguard) does halt climate change, it will not be through a few grand global ventures but through tens of thousands of smaller initiatives, each specifically targeted at solving one problem. We hope and believe that our approach to identifying good options will be instrumental in increasing both the number and quality of such initiatives. Please visit the website, explore the tool, talk to others about it, and let me know what you think.
Dr Johannes Lundershausen is Climate Knowledge Lead at Active Philanthropy