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Environmental Funding after COP21: Five discussions we need to continue

COP21 has come and gone, and many thousands of words have been written in the aftermath about whether we have witnessed the “greatest single victory since the emergence of the modern environmental movement” (Carl Pope), or whether “the iceberg has struck, the ship is going down and the band is still playing to warm applause“(Asad Rehman). The truth, as so often, probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Yes, we are possibly looking at the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel industry. But in the meantime, the lives and livelihoods of the people at the frontlines of climate change are already under urgent threat. The question of how countries – especially poor ones – can finance their responses to climate chaos looms large. Official financing of the agreed necessary minimum of $100 billion per year to 2025 has been delayed, and in Paris demands for compensation for countries affected by climate change were left out of the final agreement. With so much uncertainty around the Green Climate Fund, private finance is already being solicited to meet the most urgent needs while governments wrangle with the lack of political will to mobilise resources.

How can environmental funders effectively help build climate resilience and support the transition to a carbon-free world? What role should philanthropy play in mechanisms like the Green Climate Fund? And what does this mean for our business as usual?

To address and discuss these questions, almost 200 environmental grantmakers met during COP21 in Paris, hosted by Fondations et Climat and the French Foundation Centre. Over the course of four intense days, five dominant discussions emerged:

1. Foundations have a role to play in setting the speed at which the world responds to climate change: As the woman of the hour, Christiana Figueres, stressed to the assembled funders, private philanthropy has the unique flexibility and means to respond quickly and globally to “turbo charge” the transition – from “business as usual to business as urgent”. For this we need a solid knowledge base of existing funder initiatives, ongoing collaboration and exchange, and an understanding of when quick interventions versus long-term investments are needed. More discussion should also take place around how much and what kind of involvement private philanthropy seeks with the Green Climate Fund, as we will be called upon sooner than later.

2. Divest-Invest is one of the most important tools foundations have at their disposal: Divestment from fossil fuels, hand in hand with a commitment towards de-carbonisation and making climate a central investment criteria, is key in changing how corporates and political establishments think about the future. The ethical and economic logic is clear to philanthropic actors who show much appetite to be leaders in the movement.

3. This especially because at least among the funders who were in Paris there seems to be a consensus emerging that climate is a human rights issue: the people suffering the most severe impacts of climate change are the ones who have contributed to it the least. Climate change exacerbates discrimination and inequality, especially towards women and indigenous groups. This is why a social justice foundation should care about climate mitigation.

4. Interestingly, many of the participating foundations seemed ready to challenge and revisit their existing actions and programs. As part of this, funders are beginning to look at other “entry points” to the issue of climate change – including food security, sustainable livelihoods and health. How can funders working in these and other areas be more climate-aware and how can we channel our resources where they can have the most impact and respond to the most urgent need? Could there be a “climate-mainstreaming” effort, in the same vein as “gender-sensitivity” has become widely accepted in our grant-making?

5. One obvious answer to the effectiveness question which emerged repeatedly is that support needs to be directed to every level, in every region: Environmental funders already reinforce a strong and vocal civic movement in the global North which exerts pressure on decision-makers from the outside and mobilises the general public. Increasingly funders acknowledge the need to support equally grassroots groups fighting for climate justice, both in the South and North, to build solid local campaigns and strengthen in particular the leadership of women, indigenous peoples and youth in the climate movement. There is, however, still an undeniable dearth of funding initiatives which channel direct support to the grassroots level. Too often funding intermediaries does not enable the implementation of truly local solutions to local problems, but – even with the best of intentions – only perpetuates old paradigms. How well we can tackle this as funders will determine how successfully we can contribute to the global transition we all want and need. This is also the reason why Global Greengrants Fund, together with the Oak Foundation and other partners, provided funding for grassroots grantees – including youth, women and indigenous peoples’ leaders – to go to Paris to contribute their perspectives to the events and inspire funders to think and act locally.

The next few years are going to be crucial in shaping a concerted global effort to realise the stated ambition of a carbon peak in 2020. As we set out on this post-Paris road, the above insights, together with the report from the Paris funders’ events, can be helpful impetuses to guide our discussions as environmental funders, and I look forward to our exchanges at the EFN Retreat in February and beyond.

Eva Rehse is the Director for UK/Europe at Global Greengrants Fund. With a background in human rights, civil society development and social action, Eva most recently worked as International Project Advisor at Amnesty International, and previously with CIVICUS and the Scottish Biodiversity Forum.

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2 comments

  • Deirdre Ruane says:

    I found this article really useful and easy to read.

  • Sarah Sutton says:

    This is a helpful piece. I see the cooperative approaches of funders are valuable for scaling impact and accelerating it, yet am concerned that smaller active groups find it increasingly difficult to access funds in these aggregated funder projects. Both approaches are valuable and necessary; this article helps us keep that in mind.

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