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EFN Retreat 2021: What if 2030 has to be the new 2050?

By Florence Miller, EFN, 8th July 2021

What does this moment require of us? What mindsets, paradigms, discourses do we inhabit (perhaps unbeknownst to us) and how do they set parameters around our effectiveness as funders? What do we need to do differently to rise to the challenges of this time?

These were the guiding questions that informed our retreat for environmental funders this year, and the speakers who gave the day’s four presentations were so brilliant in their responses that we felt we would be remiss if we didn’t share notes from them more widely. We (really) encourage you to take the time to read each one and share your reflections in the comments. We guarantee they will help you reflect anew about your grantmaking, or change making, and what needs to be done at the collective level to make the transitions we need to make.

Our keynote speaker to start the day was climate lawyer, campaigner, activist and community organiser Farhana Yamin. She reflected on areas she felt funders should focus on (including new forms of leadership and new leaders, funding at the fringes and beyond the mainstream, and bringing change to the local level). She infused her talk with the imperative of justice — asking how funders can support climate action that supports nature, supports people, and is inclusive of everyone — and she urged us to focus on phasing out emissions by 2030. Read full notes from her session here.

Jon Cracknell and Harriet Williams, funders and long-time EFN members (in Jon’s case EFN co-founder), presented their hugely illuminating research into the ‘discourses’ or values that underpin funders’ choices about what to fund (knowingly or not), describing seven different discourses ranging from the ‘mainstream’ to the ‘radical’. During the session, they polled the funders present to find out where they placed themselves on the spectrum, and then, separately, where their funding tends to sit. The difference between the two was significant, revealing a significant shift that could be made. Read the full notes from their session here.

Steven Smith and Ian Christie joined us from the University of Surrey’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability to talk to us about their extraordinarily insightful research on climate-focused organisations in the UK. They, too, have classified climate actors according to the discourses they occupy, and through their mapping revealed that the vast majority of actors — and the actors with the broadest reach — espouse what they described as a ‘Growth’ discourse, one in which the transition to a net zero economy must be accompanied by economic growth. But, they argue, while this discourse may be politically viable, it is ecologically unviable. As we cannot change physics, we must (very quickly) figure out how to make a ‘Limits’ discourse politically viable. They, like Farhana Yamin, argued that one route to this rapid transition is via the local —  a bottom-up approach — and that we must phase out emissions by the 2030s, not 2050. Read the full notes from their session here — these are the longest notes but we really urge you to read them as they are rich and persuasive.

Finally, Dr Tara Garnett joined us from Table, to present on the varied discourses under the banner of what will make a ‘good food system’. She described four such discourses, all very different, and each pointing us in the direction of quite different futures. She made  it clear that, while each discourse has its fervent proponents, they all raise unanswered questions too, and the reality is that there are far more shades of grey than an often frustratingly black-and-white debate about sustainable food — especially meat consumption — implies. We were all on tenterhooks hoping to hear which of the discourses Tara herself most identified with, with her decades of experience of researching and thinking about food, agriculture, climate, nature and society. She took pity on us and divulged — but you’ll have to read the full notes of her talk to find out.

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