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Adriana Lowe and Helena Neave

Private Client Team

Charities Aid Foundation


Why COP26 is important for climate-minded donors

World leaders, alongside negotiators, government representatives, businesses, and citizens convened at COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021. They met to discuss actions taken so far and new commitments needed to hit the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Projections by experts say that while we aren’t yet on track for success (without major changes we’re looking at an increase of more than 3°C), there’s still time for global action to keep warming from exceeding that all important 2°C target.

So how can donors contribute to this vital global action? As an event, COP26 is an important spring-board from which to direct or recharge efforts to fight climate change.

How can donors use COP26 to inform their giving strategies?

For donors, COP26 is crucial for several reasons:

1. A call to action

Climate change is rarely far from the front pages, or our minds these days, but in the UK in 2020 it didn’t even make the top three most popular cause areas for charitable giving , according to CAF’s research. Globally it only accounts for around 2% of philanthropic funds, as stated in a recent report by ClimateWorks Foundation. Despite knock on effects on poverty, global political stability and migration, food security, the environment and more, many UK donors still don’t give to charities tackling climate change. Philanthropy offers an opportunity to hold governments accountable for their targets and gives us all an opportunity to help contribute to reaching them.

2. Informed giving is effective giving

A wealth of information has been shared at COP26. Climate change is a big, complicated issue but the conference and the news coverage of it gives us all an opportunity to learn more about the problem and the solutions. By understanding the current state of the climate crisis and the shared targets the world is working towards, donors can ensure they’re funding the work which is both critically important, and likely to have the support of the global community, increasing its chance of success. 

3. Seeing who has a seat at the table

Philanthropists who fund climate advocacy can use COP26 as an opportunity to understand which organisations are driving real change. There are many charities globally running campaigns and pushing for action, but only a select few have the ear and the trust of the real changemakers. For instance, in 2015 the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN) was instrumental in getting REDD+, an effective deforestation reduction scheme, enshrined in the Paris Agreement. CfRN continue to be major players and highly influential in the global discussion about deforestation. COP26 can help you spot the organisations which can turn your donations into tangible action. 


What’s the background to COP26?

The Paris Agreement was agreed by nations in 2015 during COP21. Although not mandatory, 191 countries signed the agreement. These countries committed to working together to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, aiming for 1.5°C, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to make money available to deliver on these aims. Countries have committed to bring forward national plans, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), to limit global warming and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. It was also agreed that countries would meet every five years to oversee progress on targets.

So far, the world has fallen short on previous commitments, notably a pledge by wealthy countries to spend £720bn annually to support developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. Overall, out of 40 countries tracked by the Climate Action Tracker, only one, Gambia, is currently ranked as compatible with the 1.5°C goal. While not all countries are included in this analysis, this is still a worrying trend. We clearly still have a long way to go.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. While emissions are still steadily increasing, the run up to COP26 has seen some of the main culprits of the emissions crises make bold commitments. This includes the US making its most aggressive pledge yet, to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 50% or more below 2005 levels by 2030. China is also looking to 2030, committing to hitting their emissions peak before this date. While this may be seen as too little too late by some, it does represent progress.

Some of the biggest news won’t necessarily be from nation states. For instance, the cement industry pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050 in advance of the conference. While cement doesn’t get as much attention as deforestation or petrol guzzling cars, the industry contributes around 7% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, higher than many countries. Their commitment is significant because the industry is much harder to decarbonise than some others, as the chemical process of making cement creates large amounts of CO2. Newly built houses are more efficient, but their construction often uses emissions-heavy concrete. Changing this industry would allow us to build efficient homes without such a heavy environmental cost. This commitment is likely to involve carbon capture technology which raises the exciting possibility of one of the biggest emitters becoming carbon negative in the relatively near future.

Whilst we may not be party to the decisions made at COP26, the event offers a major opportunity to respond and shape our giving in line with the needs of present and future generations around the world.