This curated page takes a 360 degree look at climate philanthropy. We explore which funds and organisations are doing what and where, showcase some of the more innovative responses, and consider the possible barriers and challenges for donors seeking to engage in climate philanthropy.
Devastating floods in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, deadly wildfires in Europe and the United States, and drought so severe that several African countries are now edging towards famine.
Extreme weather events are becoming the new norm and exacerbating existing challenges such as conflict and economic break down, entrenching inequalities, and deepening suffering.
The last century has been a time of incredible progress, with significantly-improved living standards and health outcomes for many. But climate change is putting all that at risk and it threatens to reverse hard-won gains.
The United Nations has described Climate Change as the “defining issue of our time” and warned that “without drastic action today” we will only find it harder and more costly to respond to its affects in the future.
The Middle East and North Africa, where many countries are water-starved and food insecure, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Extreme temperatures, food and water shortages, and mass migration will only deepen existing fault lines and lead to more political and social instability.
Despite these looming threats - and the deleterious impact that climate change is already having on areas that philanthropists have traditionally prioritised, such as education, health, equality, and food security – philanthropic funding for climate-related initiatives has been slow to materialise.
Climate Works, a US-based foundation, estimates that in 2021, philanthropic donations by foundations and individuals grew to $810bn, of which up to $12.5bn was focussed on climate change mitigation. However, the total allocation to climate change mitigation still represents less than 2 percent of global philanthropic giving.
In this guide, we will explore some of the more innovative climate funding responses, and consider what the barriers may be for donors seeking to engage in climate philanthropy.
Addressing the climate crisis is about more than writing cheques, it also involves enabling policy environments and making difficult decisions that may upset long-held interests.
During 2021, the growth in philanthropic giving to climate mitigation (25 percent) outpaced growth in overall giving (8 percent), according to the US-based ClimateWorks Foundation. Nonetheless, overall, spending on climate change mitigation by private donors remains less than two percent of total global giving.
Funding trends 2022: climate change mitigation philanthropy, published in October 2022, presents a detailed tracking of where philanthropic funds are being deployed across sectors, strategies, and regions, and analyses the gap between current funding levels and the levels needed to support effective and equitable climate action.
Highlights from the report:
Accelerated growth in foundation funding for climate change mitigation. Foundation funding for climate change mitigation has more than tripled since 2015, the year the Paris Agreement was adopted — growing from $900 million to more than $3 billion in 2021. Funding increased by more than 40 percent between 2020 and 2021 alone, driven in part by the arrival of major new donors and by numerous pledges and commitments.
An expanding community of grantees. Backed by philanthropic support, the total number of grantees receiving climate change mitigation funding has nearly doubled from about 1,400 in 2015 to about 2,775 in 2021 — and the total number of individual grantees receiving funds annually has increased across all regions.
Sectoral and regional trends. Although clean electricity remains the largest sector for philanthropic funding, 2021 saw sizable funding increases for forests and carbon dioxide removal. Regionally, funding is still heavily focused on the United States, Canada, and Europe, but it is growing significantly in other regions — especially Latin America and Africa — and it increasingly has a global focus.
A growing emphasis on equity and justice. An increasing number of climate funders are committing to incorporate equity and justice principles into their grantmaking. Increasingly, there are resources for climate funders looking to integrate climate justice into their philanthropic practices.
Shifting approaches and strategies and increased collaboration. The growth of climate philanthropy extends beyond increases in total funding dollars and commitments — it also involves the continued emergence of newer approaches and strategies (such as fossil fuel divestment and integrated solutions) and increased collaboration, including with the private sector and governments.
The MENA response
In the Middle East, the effects of climate change are already being felt through water shortages and extreme temperatures. Governments across the region are ramping up their climate-related action, introducing new net zero targets and sustainability drives, despite continuing to export hydrocarbons.
In 2022, Egypt will host COP 27, the first time the global climate event has taken place in the Middle East, a move which has sharpened the focus on climate-related issues for governments, private donors, and civil society actors.
The UAE, which is hosting COP 28 in 2023, has launched the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate / AIM4C) jointly with the United States. AIM for Climate seeks to address climate change and global hunger by uniting participants to significantly increase investment in, and other support for, climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation.
The Abu Dhabi Development Fund, meanwhile is supporting several renewable energy project in countries including Jordan and Korea, and has co-financed a small number of multilateral climate fund supported projects.
And in March 2022, the UAE hosted the first MENA Climate Week in partnership with UN Climate Change, UN Development Programme, the UN Environment Programme and the World Bank Group. The event brought together thousands of public and private stakeholders to explore resilience against climate risk, the transition to net zero emissions and collaboration on pressing challenges.
In Saudi Arabia, similarly there is the Saudi Green Initiative, combining 60 initiatives to reduce emissions, plant trees, protect the oceans and stimulate green business. And, Egypt, which is hosting Cop27 at the end of 2022, has also recently launched its National Climate Change Strategy and has a raft of new policies to support this shift.
Yet, despite these clear government-led commitments towards tackling emissions and the effects of climate change, there has been little movement from private donors in this space and as of October 2022, no regional donors had signed the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change. (See below)
One of the few philanthropic climate initiatives in the region comes from Saudi Arabia, led by Community Jameel, the philanthropy of the Jameel family.
The Jameel Observatory for Food Security Early Action, launched in 2021. It is a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh, Save the Children, the CGIAR International Livestock Research Initiative, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and Community Jameel. This research initiative seeks to predict, prepare for and overcome climate-related food security and malnutrition challenges in dryland areas.
There is also the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) at MIT, which fuels research, innovation, and cross-disciplinary collaborations focused on water and food systems to meet human needs.
The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) aims to accelerate and scale equitable energy transitions in low- and middle-income countries serving as an onramp to opportunity for one billion people, while averting carbon emissions, expanding energy access, and creating jobs in the process. Led by The Rockefeller Foundation, the $10bn initiative will benefit from the resources, networks, influence, and dedication of a consortium of partners, including the Bezos Earth Fund and the IKEA Foundation, and several international finance corporations and multilateral development banks that are also providing financing.
ClimateWorks Foundation is a philanthropy-backed global platform to innovate and accelerate climate solutions that scale. The foundation works to equip philanthropy with knowledge, networks, and solutions to drive climate progress. Since 2008, it has granted over $1.3bn to more than 600 grantees in over 50 countries, supporting a range of programmes from from Carbon dioxide removal, land use, and agriculture R&D, to green energy initiatives, low carbon mobility systems, and greening investment. ClimateWorks is also an enabler and it supports several funder forums and learning networks, such as the Funders Table and the India Climate Philanthropy Learning Network. During 2021, the US-based nonprofit produced 27 publications, and hosted 42 convening for more than 2,000 participants.
Breakthrough Energy was established in 2015 by Bill Gates and a coalition of private investors supporting innovative solutions to help the world achieve net-zero emissions. Notable investors in the initiative include: Saudi's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Alwaleed Philanthropies; Virgin group founder, Richard Branson; and African mining magnate, Patrice Motsepe.
Philanthropy for Climate is a global movement of foundations committed to taking urgent action on climate change. Hosted by WINGS, the nonprofit initiative is calling on all foundations, regardless of their mission, status, or geographic location to come together and signal their commitment to climate action. The International Commitment commits to seven key actions around education, resource allocation, investment strategies, operations, transparency, advocacy, and integration. The complete text of the international commitment can be found here (and in Arabic, here.) The full list of global signatories is available here. At the time of publishing this guide, there were no MENA signatories. WINGS has also produced an implementation guide, outlining suggested actions against each of the seven pillars of the commitment. You can download here. [And in Arabic, here.]
The Bezos Earth Fund was set up with commitment of $10bn from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to award grants to organisations working across a spectrum of climate-related issues with a focus on nature conservation, environmental justice, decarbonisation, and new financial models. In August 2022, the fund announced it would be making new grants worth $127m to the following projects:
- Support local NGOs to protect the waters, coasts, and islands of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama, strengthening the Eastern Tropical Marine Corridor. ($30m)
- Help National Geographic Society's Pristine Seas explore, document, and conduct research in the central and western Pacific Ocean over the next five years. ($20m)
- Extend clean, reliable renewable energy in six African countries and support the just transition toward renewable energy in South Africa with the Global Energy Alliance. ($50m)
- Advance the application of new technologies to decarbonise some of the world’s highest-emitting industries with the Mission Possible Partnership. ($24m)
- Produce a “state of tipping points” report to improve the assessment, forecasting and activation of positive tipping points.
- Support the design of an environmental justice tool in the US.
Much alarm, less action: foundations and climate change, a 2022 report by the US-based Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), explores the disconnect between the global acceptance of the need for action on climate and the negligible amount of philanthropic funding being allocated to the cause.
Its authors, Naomi Orensten, Katarina Malmgren, and Maria Lopez, set out to understand the following:
- What are nonprofit and foundation leaders doing to address climate change in their work and investment?
- How are organisations that do not focus on environmental issues thinking about climate change?
- What suggestions do climate-focused organisations have for how philanthropy can help?
To help them answer these questions, during the first quarter of 2022, they surveyed 188 leaders of US-based foundations and 120 nonprofits.
The full results are here, but in summary, they found that despite shared and deep concerns about climate change, efforts to address climate change remain relatively limited in terms of grant dollars and investment practices - and are also seen as limited in effectiveness.
Foundation and nonprofit leaders interviewed for the study urged funders to collaborate more and better. “All of us on the funding side need to coalesce around this issue for it to have traction,” said one respondent.
Others suggested that funders “use our combined voices and resources to influence policies” and “collaborate to build community power.”
Leaders also emphasised climate justice and noted the importance of “viewing climate change through an equity lens,” so as not to “continue to exacerbate inequities.” As one leader said, “To save all of us, we need to ensure that those among us who are most vulnerable — and those who have been most historically excluded from prosperity — be included and uplifted in a new vision for a post-carbon world.”
Through a climate lens
This report, by Active Philanthropy, a nonprofit climate advisory based in Germany, is a good starting point for understanding why philanthropists should care about climate change and how funding and investment practices might be adapted to support efforts to lessen its impacts.
The report looks at five key areas that it calls ‘climate intersections’ to show how the issue of climate is truly cross-cutting and threatens all aspects of global process. The five are:
- Just and democratic societies
- Public health
- Disadvantaged groups
- Nature conservation
“All funders are working tirelessly to achieve a more just and equitable world. Yet climate change risks undermining these efforts,” the report notes.
“Climate change reinforces existing inequalities on a global and local level, and its causes and impacts have great implications for justice.” And it adds: “On the flip side, successfully tackling climate change will bring significant progress to achieving SDGs like gender equality, peace and zero hunger.”
Active Philanthropy acknowledges there are “trade-offs” to be had between climate policy and nature conservation and that while they are often put together, their aims can diverge. For example, renewable energy projects may use previously untouched land, and there are tension between reforestation projects and the need to increase food production and protect local livelihoods.
But it makes a strong case for why climate should become a central consideration for grantmakers and foundations and it says: “Funders need to develop the tools to take a broader view of their social impact grant making and apply a climate lens when planning their giving strategies.”
Good climate funding practices for foundations*:
- Information management: Climate change is a fast-changing and complex topic. Allocate enough resources to stay updated on emerging challenges and solutions. Link your knowledge system to your decision-making through regular feedback and exchange.
- Funding strategies: Even if climate change is not the central concern of your foundation, it should be addressed when developing new strategies. It is likely that there will be a positive reinforcement between your own funding goals and climate mitigation and adaptation.
- Engaging grantees: When granting funds to project partners, you are in a unique position to discuss climate change with your grantees. You can encourage them to mainstream climate action throughout their own organisations, to develop policies on climate change, and to reduce their emissions.
- Project work: When discussing and approving grants, it is a good opportunity to put a climate lens on the work you are supporting. This can be done for example by supporting grantees in offsetting their emissions, encouraging them to reduce travel, or motivating them to be responsible consumers.
- Communication: If you and your team care about climate change, talk about it with your stakeholders. Set an example for other foundations, donors, and grantees. Let others know this is important to you and why. Climate change is a good opportunity to inspire others and lead by example.
- Monitor your emissions: Set up a system to identify and monitor your foundation’s own emissions and climate impacts. Once this step is in place you can set up an action plan to reduce emissions and improve climate efficiency. Publish your goals and achievements to encourage public accountability and inspire others.
- Risk management: A good first step is to acknowledge climate risks to your organisation and include them in regular assessments. Develop adaptation and mitigation strategies for your foundation.
- Finances: Check if your assets are invested in unsustainable products and if they generate revenue in ways that deplete natural resources or fuel climate change. Reinvest in sources that will support green growth.
- People management: Review your staff’s travel arrangements. Are they necessary, and how can they be reduced and offset? You can go further and analyse how to encourage your staff to live greener lives and see if the staff incentives you offer are in line with this. For example, are you providing free charging for electric cars or company bikes?
*Source: Active Philanthropy - Funding the Future: how the climate crisis intersects with your giving. (2020).
An equitable approach
Centering equity and justice in climate philanthropy, a report from Candid, explores how justice and equity intersect with climate philanthropy and it makes the case for a trust-based approach and strong engagement with frontline actors.
"Foundations that thoughtfully and intentionally align their practices with their values will be more likely to develop deep and trusting relationships with grantee partners, resulting in a sharper focus on equity and justice within their climate portfolios," it notes.
The report makes four recommendations to foundations as they prepare to support climate mitigation efforts.
It is crucial to take an intersectional lens to climate justice funding that considers the nuanced impact that gender, age, ability, race/ethnicity, and other identities have on how different groups experience the climate crisis.
The often-siloed nature of foundation portfolios can lead to missed opportunities to achieve bigger and sustainable impacts. Consider taking a more holistic approach to grantmaking or setting aside a portion of your grantmaking budget to invest in promising organizations/projects that might fall outside your strategy.
Foundations can incorporate climate justice into their work beyond grantmaking— consider how the totality of your work, not just grantmaking, can become more equity and justice focused.
To support a strong ecosystem of grantee partners, ask your current partners who is doing good work in the field. This approach will strengthen existing relationships and help build movement infrastructure, instead of creating a portfolio of partners who may lack alignment and connection.
FSG, a US-based social consulting firm, conducted primary and secondary research into climate philanthropy from April to July 2021, with support Supported by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
They sought to answer the question, “How might more foundations effectively begin to support front-line actors addressing the climate crisis?”
The report makes five recommendations to funders:
1. Learn about climate and climate justice
2. Reckon with and change internal practices
3. Build political and economic power in front-line communities
4. Expand the funder toolbox
5. Utilise foundation investment and operations as levers for change
It also lays out five starting questions for donors, programme staff, executives, and trustees to reflect upon to help them to get started on their climate philanthropy journey.
- In what ways does the climate crisis threaten the social impact your foundation seeks to have at a local, regional, national, or global scale? How severely and how fast will those threats occur?
What is at stake for you as an individual, as a fiduciary, as an organisation, and as a community in the climate crisis? What are the consequences of inaction?
In terms of responsibility and accountability, what does your organisation owe to those it seeks to serve?
After listening to the most impacted communities, what do you and your colleagues believe are the root causes of the climate crisis? How might your foundation address these root causes directly, indirectly, and/or in partnership with others?
Based on your foundation’s resources, expertise, and relationships, which tools should you use in facing the climate crisis?
Although there are very few foundations dedicated solely to climate philanthropy, there are a growing number of platforms and collaborations looking to scale investment and research to benefit the earth. Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors lists five of these groups in a 2021 topic brief about climate change philanthropy. They are:
The Climate Justice Resilience Fund, which supports climate resilience solutions created by women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples focussing on water access, food security and sovereignty, sustainable livelihoods, and migration and relocation.
The Global Commons Alliance, a partnership of more than 50 organisations in philanthropy, science, business, and advocacy focused on developing and achieving science-based targets for Earth’s life-support systems.
The Coalition for Green Capital, which works on policies to finance green infrastructure upgrades that could accelerate the adoption of technology.
The Global Alliance for the Future of Food, a coalition of foundations that works to shift food and agriculture systems toward greater sustainability, security, and equity.
Oceans 5, an international funder collaborative dedicated to protecting the world’s five oceans that is working to establish marine reserves in places like Seychelles and Arctic regions and to develop policies and regulations to constrain overfishing.
Climate change is the greatest emergency facing humanity, write Eléonore Delanoë, Charles Sellen, and Arthur Gautier, in this article for Philanthropy Age. The op-ed considers some of the reasons private donors have been so slow to fund climate-related initiatives, from the cognitive dissonance among governments and corporates seeking to reduce their carbon footprint while continuing to export hydrocarbons, to the physical separation between the wealthy global north and the millions of people in the developing world already living with the effects of climate change.
Written for COP24 (held in Poland in 2018), this report by the World Health Organisation outlines the risk to global health posed by the warming earth. "Climate change is the greatest challenge of the 21st century, threatening all aspects of the society in which we live, and the continuing delay in addressing the scale of the chal- lenge increases the risks to human lives and health," it notes. And it calls for urgent interventions from donors and governments to build climate-resilience water, sanitation and food systems, and to invest in more robust disaster risk reduction.
This webinar, hosted by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, explores how funders can help address climate change issues by building a more robust philanthropic response steeped in principles of climate justice. Kenneth M. Jones II, vice president and CFO of the MacArthur Foundation (and CDP Board Chair) moderated a discussion between: Alex Gray, director, International Funds, CDP; Alan Kwok, director, Climate and Disaster Resilience at Philanthropy California; Dr. Julie Maldonado, associate director, Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN).