Philanthropy for climate action is growing and can have a central role in shifting the global economy to a carbon-neutral future, but it could also lead to maladaptive outcomes if funding is misdirected, say leaders of two major philanthropic organizations.
“This influx of philanthropic resources is very good news,” write Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, and Christie Ulman, president of the Sequoia Climate Foundation.
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“But if misdirected, this transformational money risks creating sprawl, redundancy, and dangerous distractions that could hamper progress just when we have no time to lose,” they add in a post for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
The world faces a “yawning investment gap” of several trillion dollars needed for action by 2050 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Although projections from climate scientists grow ever more dire, global climate action faces a “David-and-Goliath struggle with transnational interests and states who perceive carbon neutrality as an existential threat,” Tubiana and Ulman write.
The two authors point to successes—philanthropic partnerships like the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, formed through collaboration between philanthropists and the Costa Rican and Danish governments, and an overall doubling of foundation funding for climate mitigation over the past four years.
But climate funding still comprises just 2% of global giving, an amount that pales in comparison to the money and influence wielded by the fossil fuel Goliaths. So, Tubiana and Ulman argue, climate philanthropists need to use resources extremely efficiently.
“In climate philanthropy, that means finding a set of investments that have a higher probability of successfully avoiding near-term warming at the lowest cost possible,” they write. “The task is only made harder by the complexity of climate science and the lag time for measuring results.”
For donors to meet the challenge of helping build a carbon-neutral future, Tubiana and Ulman say they must embrace complexity, avoid high-risk “silver bullet” solutions, work together, and learn from past successes and mistakes. By following these principles, philanthropists can develop strategies to use resources effectively and engage in shared learning with grantees.
“This learning agenda demands more of us,” Tubiana and Ulman say. “Learning to maximize impact means increasing our ability to see through the cognitive biases that cloud our judgment, and working to foster trust-based relationships and have transparent dialogue about our failures as well as our successes.”