Climate Action

What is climate philanthropy – and how can it make a difference?

Climate philanthropy is seen as a vital way to access new sources of funding.

Climate philanthropy is seen as a vital way to access new sources of funding. Image: Unsplash/Markus Spike

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate Crisis

  • Philanthropy is key to making progress – but very little of it is directed towards the climate, despite the scale of the climate crisis.
  • As CEO of ClimateWorks, Helen Mountford has granted more than $1 billion to worthy projects in more than 50 countries.
  • ClimateWorks is a key partner in the World Economic Forum’s GAEA initiative, which aims to unite philanthropic, public and private sector partners to help generate funds to tackle climate change and nature loss.

Over the course of years, philanthropy has been shown to be key to unlocking progress on many important areas – but just 2% of philanthropic funding globally is dedicated to climate-related issues.

Given the enormous scale of the climate crisis and its widespread impact, climate philanthropy is seen as a vital way to access new sources of funding. It can bring together science, business, civil society and government to drive big change.

It also offers a more agile approach, which can allow us to explore new areas and solutions to the climate crisis, bringing down the risk of future investments.

Climate philanthropy is a nimble tool

Because it is up to individuals and foundations to set direction rather than large corporations, they are often able to move more quickly, explains Helen Mountford, CEO of ClimateWorks Foundation.

“Often what we see in the public sector or the private sector is these very strong rules and guidance. There will be processes that are quite thorough and often quite complicated to get through, particularly with public funding, to actually move the money to the ground,” she says.

As a philanthropy platform, ClimateWorks has granted more than $1 billion to worthy projects in more than 50 countries. The foundation is also a key partner in the World Economic Forum initiative GAEA: Giving to Amplify Earth Action, which brings together philanthropic, public and private sector partners to help generate funds to tackle the climate crisis and nature loss.

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Mountford believes these investments have been key to helping de-risk some of the innovative technological solutions to climate change for the public and private sector.

“Where climate philanthropy can do the best is actually by being catalytic,” she says. “By really looking at where there are areas that are new that need to be explored further, where we can set some of the guidelines and approaches that can help the whole community move forward, and to be agile.

“So as we see things shifting, often climate philanthropy can be the first to actually shift direction. If there's a new crisis, a new opportunity that emerges, to really sort of lead the way.”

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A small part of the bigger climate picture

Despite the apparent advantages of climate philanthropy there is a distinct challenge with it too – there is simply not enough of it to go around.

“Of course we need trillions of dollars to really deliver on the climate crisis and philanthropy will only ever be a small part of this,” Mountford says. “We see it as a small but mighty pea.”

The other issue is that many philanthropists, even if they are interested in the climate, simply don’t know where to invest their funds for best effect.

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The power of coordinated action

The GAEA initiative is about identifying where the public and private sectors can come together to make a difference to the climate crisis, and where philanthropy will catalyse their progress.

The investment is designed to help scale promising initiatives and accelerate action, helping to bridge an estimated $100 trillion funding gap.

There are significant funding gaps in dealing with the climate crisis, which climate philanthropy could help plug.
There are significant funding gaps in dealing with the climate crisis, which climate philanthropy could help plug. Image: Indiana University

While we are in a period of polycrisis, there is a risk that people look to tackle just one crisis at a time rather than looking at them in an interconnected way, says Mountford.

“One of the things I very much aspire to is what Christiana Figueres [one of the chief architects of the historic 2015 Paris Agreement] has called stubborn optimism on climate. It's optimism because we do have the solutions. We can do it. We've got human ingenuity, the ability to work together and do this. But the stubborn part is that it will not happen unless we all really work together and actually deliver that,” Mountford says.

“So we're not going to give up. We're going to keep fighting and keep working towards really winning on climate.”

This article is based on a conversation between Helen Mountford, the President and CEO of ClimateWorks Foundation, and the World Economic Forum’s Digital Editor, Linda Lacina.

To hear the podcast in its entirety, click here.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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