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COVID-19: The view from Global Greengrants Fund

A healthy planet means healthy people. One of the many lessons COVID-19 has taught us is that when we degrade ecosystems and encroach on nature, serious diseases can emerge. We’ve also seen how deeply connected our health is with our relationship to nature.

As a grant-maker that supports environmental justice movements – involving those who “express love for both people and planet” – the last few weeks have been both daunting and reaffirming. They have demanded that we assess the impacts of the crisis on our organisation and the actors we support, but also that we identify and seize opportunities to rebalance the relationship between people and nature.

To understand all of this better, we spoke to a number of partners across our network. From all regions, we heard the same stories: of increased deforestation, land grabbing and mining, all activities classified as “essential” to keep economies running; increased government crackdowns on activism under the veil of lockdown; and growing food insecurity exacerbating impacts on those already most affected by climate change.

The challenges for grassroots climate movements in this moment are truly manifold. In addition, our partners are observing that COVID-19 is dominating the attention of governments, media and funders in most countries at the expense of progressing the climate change agenda. Internally, many very quickly had to learn how to continue to organise and campaign during lockdowns. This has inevitably led to the loss of some momentum, in part also due to the postponement of COP26.

Yet, we are also hearing stories of hope, resilience, and opportunity from our network. With clearer skies and cleaner air, many people are realising the damage we have been doing to our planet and ourselves, and our network sees exciting openings for the kind of systemic changes we need to avoid climate crisis. We are inspired by our grantee partners’ abilities to adapt and seize these opportunities. Even when responding to urgent basic needs, employing a sustainability and resilience lens is helping climate movements progress larger agendas.

For example, Articulación de familias con PCD de la comunidad Mbocajaty in Paraguay, a community group working with people with disabilities and their families, is addressing food insecurity in the absence of effective government support. As in many places around the world, the pandemic has restricted access to markets to buy and sell produce here. By providing families with training in gardening and small-scale marketing, the group hopes to recover a collective culture of food cultivation – a crucial strategy for challenging climate-intensive production systems. All of this is happening via WhatsApp, in the absence of the ability to safely meet in person.

The hope from our network is that over the next year, we will see a re-energised, more diversified, and more resilient climate movement emerge, one that is ready to maximise the opportunities of public desire not to go back to “normal”.

What does this mean for funders? Our network identified three key ways funders can offer their support:

  1. Help diversify the climate movement by channelling funding to a variety of constituencies and strategies – fund grassroots initiatives, Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, migrants, and black and brown climate actors. In the words of Samuel Nnah Ndobe, Global Greengrants’ Central Africa Coordinator: “In the absence of the moment of the COP, donors need to provide the movement with funding for spaces to strategise and create new moments as an opportunity for inclusive NDCs [Nationally Determined Contributions] that include the views of women, Indigenous Peoples, and all the sectors related to climate change.”
  2. Fund work that seeks to build economic resilience to future crises, and in particular addresses food sovereignty. How we produce, access and consume food has become a much more urgent topic for many climate actors during the COVID-19 crisis in all the regions we surveyed, and the connections to climate change resilience and mitigation are evident. More and diversified locally-led food production for local consumption is not only leading to less food waste and emissions reductions related to the transportation of produce, but also to greater food security not just in this crisis, but also in future climate crises.
  3. Work with intermediaries who are able to reach grassroots actors and are part of and accountable to movements. “Intermediaries, especially those based in the regions you fund, actually understand the context way better and are best placed to offer insights and advice”, suggests youth climate activist Winnie Asiti.

2020 was supposed to be a crucial year for the climate movement. It looks different than we had anticipated, but it might just have given us the best chance we will have to turn things around, for both people and planet to survive and thrive, in harmony with each other.

Eva Rehse is Executive Director of Global Greengrants Fund UK. Jasleen Mahal is Philanthropic Partnerships Assistant at Global Greengrants Fund UK. Global Greengrants Fund supports grassroots environmental justice movements around the world through a participatory grantmaking model.

With thanks to the following contributors from our network: Winnie Asiti, Naomi Lanoi Leleto, Samuel Nnah Ndobe, Cristi Nozawa, Cristina Orpheo, SS.

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