As philanthropists learn the importance and complexity of climate change, the question of how to best tackle the many challenges without becoming overwhelmed or fatigued came into focus on the final day of the 2020 Global Philanthropy Forum. We dove right into concrete actions we can take to make sustainable change, and experts shared what they’ve learned in the climate change space so we can move forward swiftly and effectively.
Bill Mckibben, founder of 350.org, began by stressing the importance of grassroots power in environmental justice. “When people are engaged,” he said, “that’s when things really coalesce.” He is hopeful about youth activists who have galvanized a new generation of climate advocates, but he cautioned us not to underestimate the value of older people in this movement. “The next challenge may not be with young people, but with older people. We have a huge pool for underutilized potential activists. Figuring out how to bring them in this fight…is a crucial determinant.”
Where is @billmckibben finding hope during this time of crisis? He says: “The combination of hope and raw fear of #climatechange have opened a window for public opinion to shift and engineers have dropped the cost of sun and wind power so that we can make progress.“ #GPF2020
— Growald Family Fund (@GrowaldFF) September 16, 2020
The following plenary session grappled with governmental accountability. Many governments have signed environmental treaties, like the Paris Climate Agreement, but few have followed through on fulfilling those promises. Tessa Khan, co-director of the Climate Litigation Network says there is one powerful and underutilized resource to hold governments accountable: litigation at the local and national levels. She argues that governments have known for decades what to do to lower their emissions, and have had the resources to do it. The problem is they haven’t prioritized it; nor have they been held accountable. “When [governments] put their minds to it,” she says, “they can mobilize their resources.”
Gerardo Ceballos, executive director of Stop Extinction and Al MacCuish, creative chairman of Sunshine discussed the urgency of preventing animal and plant mass extinction to avoid environmental disaster. “This is a unique and epic problem,” MacCuish stated. Right now, we’re experiencing unprecedented biodiversity loss. Without these plants and animals, we lose the regulators of our environment, which directly impacts our drinking water, food supply, and more. We forget that species extinction impacts humans directly. We need to make environmental causes like this one mainstream and we need to highlight where people have agency being part of the solution.
Today’s breakout sessions tackled the question of how to equip and support young people with the skills and training necessary to adapt and thrive in the era of climate change. Willy Foote, founder and CEO of Root Capital, emphasized the need to support agricultural businesses in environmentally vulnerable sectors and arm them with the training and infrastructure necessary for sustainability. Supporting farmers includes making sure they are part of a network connecting them to green markets and clean technologies. Kathy Abusow, founder of Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. highlighted how educational programs, such as those offered by her organization are essential to building the groundwork within younger generations, while Joshua Amposem, founder of Green Africa Youth Organization emphasized the need for true youth-led organizations.
Conference-goers then gathered to learn about the effectiveness of collaboration in climate philanthropy from Jennifer Kitt, president of Climate Leadership Initiative; Charlotte Pera, president and CEO of ClimateWorks Foundation; and Douglas Griffiths, president of the Oak Foundation. Griffiths broke down the lessons he learned so philanthropists could feel confident and empowered to work with one another to achieve climate goals. “Focus on big picture goals,” he instructed, and “use networks so you don’t reinvent the wheel.” He added that building and learning through information sharing was an invaluable tool, and that bringing partners to the table early to co-create was the best path to success.
The conference closed with guidance from Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Former President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos on how to better connect with the environment we live in and are working hard to save. He stressed the importance of working with indigenous communities around the world as a key to solving our climate crisis. Indigenous communities have a deep relationship with the Earth, knowledge that is essential to discovering effective climate solutions. He argued that governments and entities lack the spiritual component when addressing climate change. Humans have tried to dominate nature, and it has been a big mistake. “Nature is a basic component of our well being” and he said “we have to treat it with respect.”
From harnessing grassroots power and effective collaboration, to the importance of respecting and engaging with our indigenous communities and the Earth itself, the final day of the Global Philanthropy Forum’s 2020 conference offered invaluable tools and insights for philanthropists, change-makers, social investors and innovators around the world to move forward and take action to combat climate change.