The climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges of our time and requires urgent action. There is only one decade left to act. “We cannot do this without civil society”, said Executive Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans who is in charge of the European Green Deal at the panel discussion organised by F20 at the annual conference of the German Association of Foundations. And further: “The way in which foundations can operate in our societies is the reflection on the quality of democracy in Europe,” showing his willingness to engage in a dialogue for a better operating environment for philanthropy and civil society.
The European year for climate action
The European year is of great importance for climate action. The UK and Italy, who are hosting the G7, G20 and COP26, committed to putting climate change and the reversal of biodiversity loss at the heart of the multilateral agenda in 2021. This is a unique opportunity to lead the international community towards climate neutrality. Making Europe sustainable and climate-neutral by 2050 is the ambitious goal of the European Green Deal.
“European responsibility to address the climate crisis is also our responsibility as foundations, and the ambitious implementation of the European Green Deal should be of concern to all of us in the civil society. Otherwise, there will be no Global Green Deal”, said F20 Chair Klaus Milke opening the conversation on the role of foundations and civil society in addressing the deterioration of our climate.
F20 has brought together a panel of global thought leaders to exchange ideas on how to drive collaboration between policymakers and philanthropy towards climate neutrality and just transition: Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Klaus Milke, Chair of F20, Sandra Breka, Member of the Board of Management of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, Carola Carazzone, Secretary General of Assifero and Chair of Dafne – Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe, Sylke Freudenthal, Managing Director of the Veolia Foundation, Giles Ruck, Chief Executive of the Foundation Scotland, and Vidyah Shah, Executive Chairperson of the EdelGive Foundation.
Philanthropy’s role in addressing the climate crisis
“This is a time when we need to get civil society fully on board for a fundamental change in the way we live. We have given ourselves as European Union thirty years to learn to live within planetary boundaries”, said Frans Timmermans appealed to the European and global philanthropy community.
“In this fundamental transformational change, civil society is going to play a crucial role. Not making that change is going to be not just financially far more costly, it’s going to lead to disruption that humanity will have a huge problem dealing with”, said Frans Timmermans.
Scientific research shows that we have reached a number of tipping points, which – if not reversed – can lead to natural catastrophes and developments that are beyond our control. Timmermans made his message clear “We have to change. We have to tell people that this change is complicated, but it can be done”.
Sandra Breka, Member of the Board of Management at the Robert Bosch Stiftung, one of the largest private foundations in Germany, has emphasised: “With its resources and networks, philanthropy should play a decisive role in the global recovery and help shape a Global Green Deal. Foundations have the privilege to work out long-term strategies, without pressure to focus on immediate return on investment. They are ideally positioned to create innovative partnerships, can afford to think big and include stakeholders from all sectors and disciplines.
Carola Carazzone, Secretary General of Assifero and Chair of Dafne – Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe representing over 10.000 public-benefit foundations, echoed this: “Foundations’ power lies in their enormous strategic freedom as well as their ample flexibility and agility in action. Differently from governments and companies, foundations can take risks, experiment, can try and fail, which is the only way how innovation can happen”.
Managing Director of the Veolia Foundation Sylke Freudenthal pointed out the untapped potential of philanthropy in contributing to climate neutrality and being part of the solution: “All civil society actors have a wide range of action points in their daily operations and in their core business where they can act in a more climate-friendly way”.
Single Market exists for business, but not yet for Europe’s philanthropy and civil society
A majority of public-benefit foundations in Europe has been established in the last three decades, a result of Europe’s growing stability, prosperity and solidarity. “Foundations can foster partnerships and collaborations capable not only of managing responses to crises but also of innovating and building the future”, shared Carazzone.
However, the philanthropic potential is much higher if policy-makers removed existing legal and fiscal barriers and enabled a European Single Market not only for goods and services as well as for-profit companies but also for public-benefit foundations, non-profits and philanthropic flows, as it is outlined in the European Philanthropy Manifesto of Dafne and EFC’s joint Philanthropy Advocacy initiative.
Timmermans showed eagerness to propose policy solutions and to remove these barriers for European philanthropy’s action: “Where are the problems for you to operate at the pan-European level? If I can help remove some of the existing obstacles, I will be at your disposal”.
Where are the problems for you to operate at the pan-European level? If I can help remove some of the existing obstacles, I will be at your disposal, said Frans Timmermans
While politicians face legitimacy challenges, foundations and civil society organisations “are the outside independent voice” that have trust in the population and can mobilise citizens for climate action. Civil society is essential in explaining the consequences of the climate crisis and providing tangible examples to citizens. “If you will be able to transmit this sentiment that it is good to take a step back not for yourselves, but for our children, we will be able to move mountains”, he underlined.
Social justice and the need for collaboration
Climate change does not affect everyone equally. The involvement of European public-benefit foundations and civil society will become more crucial as the climate crisis is reinforcing existing inequalities and affecting Europe’s poorest citizens and communities most. In addition to the climate crisis, the COVID-19 global health pandemic has further exposed and exacerbated the vulnerabilities of our socio-economic systems. Tackling climate change and environmental degradation requires a holistic approach that takes into account the many perspectives of the climate crisis.
“It’s existential that we reign in the climate and biodiversity crises, and safeguard a stable planet for all of humanity. These crises highlight the importance of a net-zero, but also that of solidarity and a just transition that leaves no one behind,” said Sandra Breka.
Eckart von Hirschhausen, physician, comedian and philanthropist, made a plea for connecting climate crisis with health, which would help explain the negative impact of climate change to citizens in clear and simple ways: “The common denominator of climate action and protecting biodiversity is health”.
Giles Ruck, Chief Executive of the Foundation Scotland, emphasised the importance of local action: “Social justice means making a difference at the local level, inspiring communities.”
Vidyah Shah, Executive Chairperson of the EdelGive Foundation, called for more collaboration at the global level and stressed the important role of philanthropy. “Over the last few months, we have started a new and more intense climate debate in the philanthropic sector in India. More transformative cooperation between Europe and India as well as other parts of the world in the spirit of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement is essential to achieve greater sustainability and to combat the global climate crisis.”
In the last week, a ground-breaking partnership was announced between the European Commission and Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, founded by Bill Gates with the aim of raising $1 billion to boost investments in critical climate technologies. This will see private and philanthropic funding matched by EU funding within the framework of InvestEU. This is an important example of the bold collaboration that we need to find the solutions to the global crisis that we are facing and to facilitate a just transition, and hopefully only the beginning of private-public partnerships with the aim to increase collective impact.
This article has been originally published by Philanthropy Advocacy.