As we look for where financial resources will come from to kick-start the global path to 2030, we believe one group deserves more attention. Foundations – corporate and private, community and more prominent philanthropies - can be catalysts for risk-taking and supporting innovative solutions to the climate crisis. This group shows an increasing appetite to collaborate and positively impact climate change through climate philanthropy.
What is climate philanthropy?
Climate philanthropy as a field is emerging and changing all the time in response to new actors with significant commitments entering the space – such as the recent $10 billion pledge from the Bezos Earth Fund, $3.5 billion from Laurene Powell Jobs, or $1 billion from Hansjörg Wyss.
Yet detailed research into philanthropic support in 2020 shows only 2% of European funding and 0.5% of US philanthropic spending focused on climate change.
Foundations: the impatient optimists
Foundations of all kinds occupy a distinctive space in funding for change - their capital is deployed only to make a difference. This is a huge responsibility but also a liberating position. They can take the long-term view and make immediate action decisions, such as divesting from fossil fuel investments as many have done (including some of the largest like the Rockefeller Foundation).
How can these ‘Impatient Optimists’ – as Melinda French Gates and Bill Gates describe their work through the Gates Foundation – work together for the most significant impact?
How can the diverse foundation sector come together to catalyse climate change action?
Individual foundations have certainly made significant contributions to climate change changemakers globally. They have made grants early on, supported campaigning organisations, and led the way in using resources to invest for good alongside grantmaking.
There are also some newcomers, such as the Laudes Foundation, launched in 20; they are explicitly focusing on climate change. It is a part of the Brenninkmeijer family enterprise, which founded fashion retailer C&A and includes the family’s other private philanthropic activities, such as Porticus, the Good Energies Foundation and Argidius Foundation.
For collective work, there are groups like Environmental Funders Network, a UK based umbrella organisation and part of a global alliance of environmental funders. Their statement on climate funding on the eve of COP 26 outlines a rapidly changing landscape. They see some major funding programmes emerging while, at the same time, the overall level of support, directed to grassroots programming, continues to remain relatively low.
The Network sees COP as a critical space to bring funders together. So they have collated an open list of all the events with a funder focus to help facilitate closer collaboration.
Organisations are also coming together to pledge action on climate philanthropy. In the UK over 60 foundations have now signed up to the Funder Commitment on Climate Change. It is part of the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change launched officially during the first week of COP26.
This commitment to wholesale climate action within their organisation, across their investments and in the allocation of funding is welcomed and through peer to peer collaborations, networking and awareness; it is hoped that many more foundations will follow their example.
Ultimately climate action and finding solutions to the climate crisis will have positive knock-on effects for poverty, such as reducing food insecurity, creating jobs and stemming the flow of future mass migrations.
In our opinion, corporate and private foundations are crucial in the drive for a sustainable future.
In this decade of action, there is much work to be done - governments, individuals, businesses and not-for-profits, all need to take a leadership role and be responsible. As we have discussed, corporate foundations have enormous potential for the SDGs, and now is the time to realise it.
As a sustainability consultancy, we ensure our support to clients is wrapped in collaborations and partnerships (SDG17), which empowers SMEs, social enterprises and corporate foundations to shift rapidly and with a focus.
To learn more about SDG Changemakers and how we support corporate foundations to create the most significant impact - get in touch.