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Philanthropy and Global Warming

April 08, 2008

Mgf_logo_white As noted previously (here, here, and here), climate change is seen by many as the critical global challenge of our time. According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which, along with Al Gore, was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for its "efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change"):

[A]tmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane in 2005 exceed by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years. Global increases in carbon dioxide concentrations are due primarily to fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution. It is very likely that the observed increase in methane concentration is predominately due to agriculture and fossil fuel use. The increase in nitrous oxide concentration is primarily due to agriculture....

The report further notes that

Continued greehouse gas (GHG) emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century....

So what's a small private foundation with a keen interest in the issue and relatively limited assets to do? That was the question addressed by Lukas Haynes, vice president at the New York City-based Mertz Gilmore Foundation, earlier today at a lunchtime presentation sponsored by NYU's Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising.

Haynes, a former program officer at the MacArthur Foundation and speechwriter for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, opened his remarks by noting that the worst effects of climate change will be disproportionately felt by poor and developing countries and that the U.S., as the largest producer of GHGs (in both aggregate and per capita terms), has forfeited "its moral capacity to lead on the issue" -- a situation the foundation, which first identified global warming as a critical long-term challenge in 1984, hopes to change through its new Climate Change Solutions initiative.

How does MGF, which had assets of $106 million in 2005 and made grants totaling a little more than $5 million, plan to do that? By being both strategic and opportunistic with the $1.5 million a year it plans to allocate to climate change work, said Haynes.

To that end, MGF has embraced the strategic framework developed by the Climate and Energy Funders Group and is using it to inform and guide its climate change activities. Comprised of five strategies (all but the last of which the foundation has adopted), the framework calls for:

  1. Stimulating action plans and model policies at the state and regional level (with the ultimate goal of forcing action at the federal level);
  2. Mobilizing the public and engaging key constituencies (including political elites and the media);
  3. Partnering with and pressuring business (in particular, by funding advocacy coalitions working to stop utility companies from building coal-fired power plants);
  4. Working to accelerate the transition to a clean-energy economy by promoting the economic benefits of a green economy; and
  5. Applying pressure at the international level (the one strategy the foundation feels it doesn't have the resources to pursue).

Haynes cited #1 as an example of the foundation being "strategic," in that catalyzing change at the policy level requires a long-term perspective and lots of hard slogging in the legislative trenches; and #3 as an example of an "opportunistic" approach, in that halting (or even delaying) the construction of a coal-fired plant creates immediate results (i.e., reduced GHG emissions).

But perhaps the most important consideration for foundations looking to enter this arena, said Haynes, is figuring out ways to leverage their investments -- making a grant of, say, $50,000 that leads to a result, over time, potentially worth many times that amount.

A look at grants made by GMF in 2007 shows how the foundation hopes to accomplish that:

  • American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy -- $35,000 to support implementation of the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
  • Appalachian Voices -- $70,000 to promote alternatives to new coal-fired power plants in Virginia and North Carolina.
  • Center for Public Interest Research -- $85,000 to support implementation of the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
  • Chesapeake Climate Action Network -- $25,000 to promote alternatives to new coal-fired power plants in Virginia.
  • Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) -- $50,000 to support organizing and outreach on state-wide climate solutions.
  • Clean Air-Cool Planet -- $50,000 to support the New Hampshire Global Warming Education project during the 2008 primaries.
  • Conservation Law Foundation -- $50,000 to support implementation of the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
  • Energy Foundation -- $15,000 to support a fact-finding consultancy on coal-fired power plants in Kentucky.
  • Environment Northeast -- $65,000 to support implementation of the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
  • Environmental Advocates of New York -- $25,000 to support implementation of the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
  • Environmental Defense -- $50,000 to support climate change policy solutions in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
  • Natural Resources Defense Council -- $85,000 to support implementation of the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
  • New York Botanical Garden -- $10,000 to plan and implement an integrated program addressing regional and global climate change issues.
  • Pace Law School -- $50,000 to support climate and energy solutions in New York, including RGGI implementation.
  • Regulatory Assistance Project -- $25,000 to support implementation of the Northeat Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
  • Resource Media -- $60,000 to conduct a pilot initiative that provides television station scientists with information and products needed to explain climate change and help their viewers reduce global warming pollution.
  • Sierra Club Foundation -- $20,000 to promote alternatives to new coal-fired power plants in Virginia.
  • Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards -- $10,000 to promote alternatives to new coal-fired power plants in Virginia.
  • Southern Environmental Law Center -- $75,000 to promote alternatives to new coal-fired power plants in the Carolinas and Virginia.
  • Union of Concerned Scientists -- $25,000 to support dissemination of the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment.
  • Union of Concerned Scientists -- $50,000 to support implementation of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and additional outreach for the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment.
  • Urban Agenda -- $50,000 to educate the governing boards of the New York City pension funds and the Office of the Comptroller about investing new resources in the clean energy sector.

Collaboration is another key driver of the foundation's grantmaking. In fact, almost all of GMF's climate change grants are made in collaboration with other funders; as Haynes says, "There's no time to waste on petty turf stuff."

You can learn more about the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and its Climate Change Solutions Initiative here. And, as always, we'd love to hear your thoughts about climate change and philanthropy's role in mitigating it.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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