How do you consider climate change in your work? – Environmental Funders Network

As politicians and policy-makers struggle to tackle the devastation threatened by global warming, how central is climate change in the work of both environmental funders and those whose objects may not include the natural world, but who nonetheless see it as a top priority? We spoke to members about how they consider climate change in their work.

The fourth article in this series comes from Florence Miller, Director, Environmental Funders Network.

This series was first published in Trust & Foundation News.

One of the major barriers to considering funding climate change is the misperception – even among environmental funders – that climate change work is well funded in the UK.

The data do not bear that out. Our report Where the green grants went 7 categorises all grants from UK trusts and foundations going to environmental causes by thematic issue. For the most recent year for which we have data, 2015-16, climate-related work in the UK received just £3.8 million. I’m not sure why that is when for various reasons climate specialists agree the UK is of strategic importance when it comes to climate change leadership.

However, the story internationally is different, with climate funding on the rise, largely because of a couple of UK foundations – Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and Shell Foundation – giving out some very large grants.

Even with that rise, we are still talking about very small amounts of money compared to the scale of the challenge. When we add up all grants from UK foundations directly related to climate work for the most recent years for which we have data (2012/13 – 2015/16), they amount to around £46.5 million per year. If you consider the magnitude of the drivers of climate change, you see we are facing a major David and Goliath situation.

I think a second barrier to funders getting involved in funding climate change is an aversion to policy-related work. I don’t know why that is – perhaps concern that it will be partisan/party-political? But of course, policy change – though hard to achieve – is a crucial component to successfully addressing climate change.

Significantly too, climate change is seen by some as purely an environmental issue, so for funders who don’t ‘do’ the environment, it’s set aside as not relevant. But of course climate change is a human issue, not only caused by us but hugely damaging to us. The idea of compartmentalising it as an environmental issue that doesn’t relate to the other issues we care about like poverty, development or health, is madness, I think.

We try to make the connections all the time, emphasising to foundations that these issues underpin all that they care about. I do think there is a wilful ignorance of the seriousness of climate change – among the population in general, not just funders. It requires such an extraordinary transformation of society, that most times it is easier just to turn away. But the last year or two have seen so many climate-related disasters, from fires to flooding, that I think people are finally beginning to realise we need major action now.

We run events for high level prospective donors to environmental causes, and are starting to see new funders coming to us with interest in climate change and other environmental issues such as plastics, which has recently piqued interest. We know it’s hard to decide where best to put funds to get meaningful results. We are not a consultancy and have only limited resources, so we try to connect new donors with as many established funders as possible to learn about others’ strategies and leapfrog the early stages of developing a new funding stream.

We also work as much as possible in partnership with others to leverage all our efforts to get more money into the sector. For example, private banks and philanthropy advisors, and consultancies like Ten Years’ Time, are becoming much more interested in climate change.

For funders wanting to concentrate more on climate change, I would recommend that they network as much as possible and talk to the specialists. There is a vast array of strategic work in need of funding. And there’s plenty that can be done by funders who are not involved in environmental issues. Take culture and the arts, for example. People working in that sector know and care about climate change. What is needed is funding to allow creative endeavours to start addressing climate change in ways that will engage the public, will tap into their feelings and emotions. The question then will be how to join up that work to initiatives that help people turn their emotions into action through policy work by bodies such as The Climate Coalition – a broad coalition of 130 different organisations focused on climate change, from the Women’s Institute to Oxfam.

I don’t know of many of our members who require action on climate change from their grantees – such as a policy for making their offices more sustainable – as a condition of their funding. But if some of the larger foundations were to do that across all their funding areas, and provide resources for it to be done, it could have a fairly significant effect on many organisations and individuals.

In terms of investments, I am surprised that more trusts and foundations have not committed to DivestInvest. Although maybe I shouldn’t be surprised as there is often such a firewall between investments and grants. But if we are talking about metric tonnes of carbon going out into the atmosphere, some investments can easily undo any good work foundations are doing in their grant-making. It is complicated to unpick investments, especially through funds, but many foundations have managed it.

Finally, I think there will be a reputational risk to not addressing climate change, but I am not sure whether funders realise this. I think increasingly the public is expecting foundations to take a position on climate change, so it is much better to get on board early than to be caught out.

Florence Miller
Environmental Funders Network

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