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Towards a Global Solution: The Role of Philanthropy in Addressing Climate Change

May 08, 2008


That was the title of a session I attended on Monday at the Council on Foundation's just concluded annual conference. Designed and moderated by the always impressive Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the panel featured Betsy Taylor, founder and chair of 1Sky, a citizen-based movement dedicated to bringing about bold federal action by 2010 to reverse global warming; Ji-Qiang Zhang, vice president of programs at the Blue Moon Fund; and Jules Kortenhost, CEO, the European Climate Foundation.

The mood in the room, while somber -- "This is not a time for business as usual," said Heintz at one point, "it's a time for foundations to model their very best behavior" -- wasn't gloomy. Reversing climate change is the great challenge facing our generation, said Heintz, and it can be done. If and when we do it, our children and grandchildren will look back and thank us in the same way that we now thank the Greatest Generation for its sacrifices.

One of the interesting things about the session was the way Heintz chose to start it: by asking the fifty or so people in the room questions about climate change they had for the panelists specifically and foundations in general. This is what we came up with:

  1. What role do foundations have in connecting the dots with respect to disparate concerns (indigenous rights groups, anti-poverty groups, pro- and anti-nuclear groups, smart cities coalitions, etc.)?
  2. What should the program of the new U.S. president with respect to climate change be on day one of his/her administration, and how can foundations support it?
  3. How have climate change strategies changed over the last twenty years? What approaches should we leave behind and which new approaches should foundations support?
  4. How should foundations deal with the hypocrisy of their own endowments supporting industries that contribute to climate change?
  5. How certain are we that we have 10-15 years to move the needle on the climate change issue?
  6. What are the most important and/or promising funding strategies related to helping developing countries adapt to climate change?
  7. What is the relative importance of land-use strategies compared to other strategies?
  8. What is philanthropy's strategy to harmonize international efforts to combat climate change?
  9. What is philanthropy's responsibility to address the likely significant impact of climate change on the most marginalized communities?
  10. What role, if any, can foundations play in getting institutions of higher education to address climate change?

We all thought it was a pretty good list. Your thoughts?

-- Mitch Nauffts

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