The next few years will be critical to humanity’s future. – Written by Jane Cabutti

We are not short of information about the seriousness, urgency and enormity of the environmental and climate crisis. We have known about the possibility of climate change for almost 100 years and have been certain since 1960 when a geochemist measured CO2 in the atmosphere and found an annual rise. Yet it has only been in recent years that public concern has significantly increased, thanks in no small part to the school climate strikes, Extinction Rebellion and of course, Sir David Attenborough. UK voters now rank the environment as the second most important issue facing the country, behind Covid-19. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events right around the world and the awareness of the inequality of its effects now means that tackling climate change is a global issue – and COP26 is the time that governments must come together to do precisely that.
We must cut our global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and halt and reverse the loss of nature. So in the face of these tremendous challenges – what can philanthropy do? What impact can funding have at any level?

What difference can philanthropy make?

Environmental philanthropy works. At the Environmental Funders Network, we’ve always known this. In 2019, we asked our members (foundations and individuals who support environmental causes) for stories of funding that helped solve significant environmental problems. We were inundated, and in each instance, the funding had a transformative effect. We had too many stories to include them all, but the final collection of Environmental Philanthropy: Stories to Inspire, is here. They range from saving a species, the Blue-throated Macaw (as well as improving the habitat it depends on and livelihoods for the local community), to supporting Extinction Rebellion, to founding Client Earth, which Julie Hoegh describes so passionately below. Together, the stories reveal some common themes:

So environmental philanthropy works – but we need much more of it.

Our latest research* shows that UK foundation funding for environmental issues almost doubled between 2015/16 and 2018/19 – a welcome trend after years of low-level giving. This is the result of established environmental donors increasing the amounts they are giving and new foundations joining the space, and we expect the upward trend to continue. The bad news: at £222 million per annum, environmental giving was still only 6% of total UK foundation giving in 2018/19, and giving for climate-related work represents 2% of the total. In early 2019, the David and Claudia Harding Foundation gave a single gift of £100 million to Cambridge University – equivalent to almost half of all giving to environmental causes in that year!

Biodiversity and climate-related work understandably attract the highest shares of foundation funding, while the so-called ‘Cinderella’ issues – transport, trade & finance, toxics & pollution, consumption & waste – attract the smallest shares of funding. These issues arguably deserve much more funding than they receive and have the potential to deliver enormous impact, as they account for many of the driving forces behind environmental degradation and climate change.

Help and support

There are myriad ways for funders who are new to the environment to get support, if needed, and to start giving.

  1. The Funder Commitment on Climate Change, hosted by the Association of Charitable Foundations, is a way for foundations, whatever their charitable mission and field of expertise, to play a part in addressing the causes of climate change and supporting adaptation to its effect.
  2. The Donors for Climate is a new, similar pledge for individual donors.
  3. In addition to its research reports, the Environmental Funders Network (EFN) provides resources for funders (including, for example, Acting on the Climate Crisis – Why, How and the Role of Philanthropy: A resource pack for funders), and opportunities for networking and learning.
  4. Impatience Earth’s team of climate and philanthropy experts provide pro bono advice to donors seeking to support organisations working to address the climate crisis.
  5. And of course, the Big Give Green Match Fund 2022 will use matched funding to incentivise donations for a wide range of environmental charities as well as supporting them to build their resilience, skills and profile.

The next few years will be critical for humanity’s future – now is the time to mobilise every resource we have. Whatever route you decide to take, in the words of EFN member Kevin Cox: “Act now – the climate and nature crisis is too urgent for procrastination. Follow your passion, not the fashion – an emotional attachment to a project will keep you committed for longer and bring greater rewards. Give more than money – many projects and partners need your expertise and skills as much as they need your financial support. Enjoy the journey – you will get back much more than you give.”

Action is the antidote to despair. – Written by Julie Hoegh.

Just as young activists wonder what the point of studying is if there is no future, I’ve been wondering the same when it comes to amassing wealth. If the point is to make sure our children thrive in the future, we might do them a greater favour by investing wisely now to make sure there is a liveable future. As for many environmental philanthropists, this was my main driver.

I got into environmental philanthropy four years ago after reading an article about the environmental law firm ClientEarth. Their approach made instant sense to me. Holding companies and governments to account for breaches of environmental laws, a job I somehow naively assumed the state was undertaking, is their primary mission. ClientEarth also works constructively with lawmakers all over the world, including China, to shape effective environmental laws and their successes in both fields are numerous and impressive.

ClientEarth is just one example of a myriad of environmental organisations doing amazing work. There’s something for everyone in this field, be it organisations fighting against biodiversity loss, deforestation, plastic pollution, marine ecosystem destruction, or wildlife protection.

For me, at this moment in time, the environmental movement is the mother of all charitable causes. Without a thriving planet, nothing else will thrive, regardless of philanthropic support. At the end of the day, human and economic health are deeply interconnected with planetary health. Yet, only 2% of charitable donations go to environmental causes. Thankfully, this number is on the rise, but there’s a long way to go, and we need to move fast.

The enormity of the problems is such that it’s tempting to look the other way. I tried that for a while, but it didn’t make me feel better- quite the opposite. As American songwriter and activist, Joan Baez said: ‘Action is the antidote to despair’ and getting involved with ClientEarth has given me a sense of hope and a feeling I’m contributing to solving the daunting environmental challenges we’re all facing.

Thank you to our writers

Jane Cabutti is the Growing Philanthropy Director at the Environmental Funders Network.
The Environmental Funders Network (EFN) is the UK’s network for foundations, family offices, and individual donors supporting environmental causes. It aims to increase the amount of financial support for environmental causes and improve its overall effectiveness.

*The Environmental Funders Network’s latest research, Where The Green Grants Went 8, will be published in November 2021 and is an analysis of all environmental grants from UK foundations between 2016/17 and 2018/19.

Julie Hoegh joined as an Ambassador for The Big Give in 2021. She has been a Development Board member at environmental law firm ClientEarth since 2018. Prior to that, she served for ten years on the London Committee of Human Rights Watch and co-chaired the Human Rights Watch Film Benefit Committee.

How can I take action?

If you care about environmental causes and want to take action today, save the date for our upcoming Green Match Fund launching on World Earth Day, 22-29 April 2022.

Big Give is the UK’s #1 match funding platform. We match donations to multiply generosity and create a lasting impact in the world. Big Give has raised over £200m for thousands of great causes through the power of match funding. Find out more.