What trusts and foundations are doing to face up to climate change

01 November 2021

The UN’s COP26 climate summit opened this week. Richard Hebditch, ACF’s director of external affairs, explores how the Funder Commitment on Climate Change is helping foundations in the UK and beyond to respond to climate change.

Collective commitment
The Funder Commitment on Climate Change launched two years ago at ACF’s 2019 conference. The Funder Commitment’s impact is now rippling out from the initial group of signatories to having a wider impact, within the UK, in other European countries and now globally. Foundations should be proud of the lead that many are playing on tackling climate change and how they are thinking through their own practices too.
The Funder Commitment was originally developed by a small group of foundations and then opened up to all foundations to sign. 75 foundations have now signed it and we expect more to consider signing it as we go into COP26. We’re setting ourselves the target to reach 100 signatories by end of 2021. 

Our work to support foundations now has a regular rhythm with monthly meetings alternating between speakers discussing themes within the Commitment and learning circle discussions to share experiences with new participants very welcome to attend. 

We’re also really pleased to be working closely with the Environment Funders Network to provide more support, including the publication of a resource pack for funders: Environmental Funders Network – Acting on the Climate Crisis – Why, How and the Role of Philanthropy: A resource pack for funders.* 

What next?
We’re now looking ahead to what should be the next steps, after the initial year of work which was supported by a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. We’ll be carrying on our support for signatories and promoting the Commitment. 

We’ll also be running again the annual survey of progress by signatories to help identify where future work is needed. And we’ve set up a small advisory group to help shape our work and ensure it can flex and respond to what’s needed – and potentially up the ambition as the Funder Commitment develops and as action becomes more urgent if emissions are not brought down fast enough. 

Part of this may also be about helping foundations think through where their focus can have most impact, including looking at which sectors are struggling to get emissions down and how funders may be able to unlock some of the barriers to progress. It’s estimated that only 2% of global philanthropy is spent tackling the climate crisis. Across Europe, environmental funding is not focused on those sectors where progress is most needed. And, in the UK, more needs to be done to help charities and community groups start the journey to net zero.

You can read more about our work and ideas on what comes next in our report on the first year of hosting the Funder Commitment on Climate Change.

Philanthropy and climate across the globe
The other main focus for our work is our engagement with European and international work from funders. Tackling climate change needs to be a global priority to succeed. So far, France, Spain, Italy and Canada have launched their own versions, drawing on the UK commitment. 

The Coalition Française des Fondations pour le Climat now has 100 signatories. The French commitment emphasises more collective endeavour compared to the UK’s more organisationally autonomous version.

Spain’s Pacto por el Clima de las Fundaciones Españolas has over 70 signatories and was developed from an intensive participatory effort with a wide range of Spanish foundations involved.  

Sixty-one foundations and philanthropic organisations in Italy have joined a commitment to action on climate change launched by Assifero, the Italian association of grant-making foundations.

And at the beginning of October, the Canadian Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change was also launched. The Commitment is a joint initiative of The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal  Peoples in Canada, Community Foundations Canada, Environment Funders Canada and Philanthropic Foundations Canada. 

The UK’s Funder Commitment has also been drawn on in the creation of a new International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change. Hosted by WINGS, the international network of philanthropy development and support organisations, the International Philanthropy Commitment was developed by a task force made up of over 40 foundation networks, including ACF, and philanthropy support organisations from 21 countries around the world, representing around 22,500 funders. 

The International Philanthropy Commitment also draws on the UK Commitment for its text but additionally includes the need for advocacy on climate from foundations. The International Philanthropy Commitment provides a route for foundations to sign up where there is no national commitment. Internationally-focused UK foundations may also think it’s worth considering signing the international version, with the coalition behind it more likely to engage with international bodies and debates. 

A new Donors for Climate initiative was also launched last week, aimed at individual philanthropists.

Taking the long view
The progress internationally, the growing focus of UK foundations through the Funder Commitment, and then the growing interest from wider civil society show how climate change has risen up the agenda. But the focus this year on climate with the COP26 climate show how much is still to do. 

Additionally, the severe impacts of climate change are being felt here and now. Floods in central Europe, a record 48.8 degrees Celsius record in Sicily and wildfires across the Mediterranean and North America are already impacting on people’s lives. Agricultural yields are likely to suffer as temperatures rise and inland areas face more droughts, adding to the cost of food and putting pressure on the stability of many countries. And in the UK, there is an active debate on how to fairly pay for the transition to a zero carbon economy to avoid placing unacceptable costs on the poorest in society. 

All this reinforces why climate change matters to all foundations, whatever their focus. But foundations are well placed to help with the transition. Unlike shorter-term political and business cycles, which have to respond to immediate voter or consumer demands, foundations can take the long view and work to sustain change by responding flexibly to the changing world around them. 

You can sign up to the Funder Commitment on Climate Change at Funder Commitment on Climate Change (opens a Google form) 

Read more about the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change at philanthropyforclimate.org.

A version of this blog post is in the October edition of Trust and Foundation News.