Helena Neave

Helena Neave

Private Client Advisor
Charities Aid Foundation

E: philanthropy@cafonline.org

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Covid-19 and climate change progress


In this webinar for our philanthropy clients we explored the impact Covid-19 has had on progress against climate change. 

It is widely known that we are facing a climate emergency. This year was set to be a big year for climate change and biodiversity negotiations however, the current COVID-19 pandemic has postponed negotiations to next year.

On the week of what would have been the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, we hosted a webinar for our private clients exploring ways that donors can use their philanthropy to maintain the momentum of 2019 for climate action, and ensure that governments and societies alike make the most of 2021, the new ‘super year’.

We were joined by Jane Cabutti – Expanding Environmental Philanthropy Coordinator for Environmental Funders Network, Hannah Martin – CEO of Green New Deal, Angela Terry – Climate Scientist and CEO of One Home, and Alice Bell – Co-director of the charity Possible to address these issues in full.

2020 so far…

Last year was a big year for climate and environmental awareness thanks to movements such as Extinction Rebellion and school strikers.

This was a great way to enter 2020, labelled as a ‘super year’ with its agenda full of negotiations including setting new international targets for biodiversity and forging a new agreement to protect the high seas.

Yet, 2020 has not played out the way anyone envisioned. Reports were published at the beginning of the year of major bush fires in Australia, wildfires in California and the continual burning and deforestation of the Amazon, to name a few.

However, since then, reporting has focused on the pandemic and environmental disasters, such as the continual deforestation and burning of the Amazon, have not received as much reporting as the previous year. And, while the exact origins of the coronavirus are unknown, they are in part due to a degradation of our environment and relationship with the natural world.

One positive that has come from lockdown is how reductions in movements enabled a reduction in emissions and pollutants. This enabled nature to recover, leading many to reflect on their own lifestyle and contribution to the climate emergency.

Maintaining Momentum

To continue momentum toward climate and biodiversity work, we need robust and well-funded environmental charities. However, the pandemic has badly affected the charitable sector including environmental organisations. The UK has estimated an average loss of £4 million in funding per charity for the coming year.

It is estimated that only about 4% of all foundation funding in the UK is directed toward environmental issues and causes, within that only 50% is spent on climate change work specifically. This is a diminutive figure in absolute terms, and particularly disheartening given the scale of the issue.

What can we do?

Depending on your appetite for risk, there are a few different avenues if you care about climate change and want to redress this funding imbalance.

The first, and most direct, is simply donating to smaller environmental charities to survive the financial burden of the pandemic so that they can continue their work and contribute to the vibrancy of the environmental NGO sector.

The second is focusing on areas that are neglected (even relative to the already neglected area of climate change and environmental conservation). Our speakers highlighted that climate change adaptation and mitigation remains very underfunded.  In a UK context, this could include the risks that rising sea levels pose to the UK’s coastal regions and communities or flooding mitigation.

For donors with a higher appetite for risk, and who wish to change things ‘at the top’, systems level work may be a better fit. Our speakers suggested high-level advocacy work to ensure that the pandemic does not overshadow the climate emergency or provide governments with the opportunity to miss their green targets as they begin to recover from the pandemic’s social and economic consequences. Another area in need of support is environmental organisations challenging corporate lobbyists fighting against carbon caps and ‘greener’ policies. Working with the media - broadcast, digital and print - not only increases awareness of the climate emergency with the public and highlights the benefits of going green to consumers but signals to businesses and politicians that this is a subject that people care about.

Funding climate change education was discussed as an approach. In particular, educating children from a young age about the responsibility for the environment and building that awareness. Whilst this is important for the future and we should be investing in this, it is crucial to focus on changing behaviours now, as we cannot wait for the future to arrive.

Whatever type of programme or initiative donors may choose to fund, a couple of universal principles emerged from all speakers. These were:

  1. Making 3-5 year commitments to charities you fund. It is difficult for charities to develop strategy and allocate resources if they do not know, from year to year, how much funding they will secure. For environmental charities to be successful, they need to be able to plan.

  2. Being willing to experiment. One speaker highlighted the need for environmental philanthropists to behave more like their opponents, the Koch brothers, funding all sorts of initiatives to see what sticks. Although the Koch brothers are able to fund issues on a totally different scale to your average donor, the principle can still apply no matter your level.

Take home message

2021 has the opportunity to really bring about much needed change and awareness. It is so important to maintain this momentum and take action, rather than waiting for future long term approaches to come to fruition as we are running out of time. What we do now, decides the future for everyone.

Environmental philanthropy is crucial and a vital component in solving the environmental and climate crises. Yet, it does not get nearly enough funding.

If you are interested in learning more about what approaches or organisations you can support as part of your philanthropic strategy, the private client team and our advisory proposition are happy to help. Please contact us to speak to one of the team.

Further resources

Further resources and information. All links below open in a new tab.

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