Environmental laureates urge foundations and philanthropists to battle climate change

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Some 160 leading environmentalists have issued a call to foundations and philanthropists to use their money and influence to battle climate change.

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In an open letter published in the form of a full-page advertisement in the International New York Times, environmental laureates from around the world argue that foundations could play a big role in catalyzing climate change action.

 Many foundations hold shares in fossil fuel companies – the biggest contributor to warming – while working to solve social issues that will only be exacerbated by climate change.

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    Signatories include UK environmentalists Jonathan Porritt and Tony Juniper and green energy leaders Juliet Davenport and Dale Vince, alongside international experts such as Aimée Christensen and Peggy Liu.

    The letter warns of the likely impacts of unabated global warming, which, it says, could cause us to “lose our ability to feed ourselves, run out of potable water, increase the scope for war, and cause the very fabric of civilisation to crash”.

    Despite these risks, governments have failed to curb greenhouse gas emissions and a 2015 UN climate summit may be the last chance “to agree a treaty capable of saving civilisation”.

    In this environment, foundations and philanthropists could turn the tide, the environmentalists – each of them winners of major environmental awards – write.

    “The world’s philanthropic foundations, given the scale of their endowments, hold the power to trigger a survival reflex in society, so greatly helping those negotiating the climate treaty,” the letter reads.

    Some foundations have already begun to take action on climate change, as demonstrated by the Divest-Invest coalition

    Some 17 member organisations, collectively worth almost $2 billion (£1.2bn) and featuring leaders such as the Wallace Global Fund, recently pledged to divest from fossil fuel firms and invest in renewable energy instead.

    The environmental laureates call on other foundations to follow their lead, and help save civilization by investing in renewables, aiding the development of low carbon markets, and divesting from or engaging with polluters.

    Renowned environmental campaigner Jeremy Leggett, the founder and non-executive chairman of solar electric company Solarcentury, coordinated the declaration.

    “There is a feeling among the laureates that the foundations, many of whom are already worried about climate change, could be doing a lot more, and a little more effort could go a long way,” he told Blue & Green Tomorrow.

    Leggett explained that two developing trends, “the spectacular rise of clean energy” and “a surge in pressure on capital expenditure among fossil fuel companies”, mean the foundations have a unique opportunity to accelerate climate action.

    Many philanthropists, he added, must yet realise that climate change will have a direct impact on their efforts towards other causes.

    “If foundations are doing really good work on health, or water, or agriculture, or social issues, what is that going to come to in a world that is warming by 4-6C? You’ve got to fix the climate problem first.”

    The advertisement was paid for by a successful crowdfunding campaign, and Leggett added that he is “cautiously” encouraged by the response the declaration has had.

    “We all need to act whether we are philanthropists, politicians, corporates or individuals in communities, everyone has to play a role, if it is to prove a defeatable issue and not the epitaph of the human kind.” 

    Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre via Flickr

    Further reading:

    Development banks pledge to increase finance for climate change action

    WMO: greenhouse gas levels rising at fastest rate since 1984

    ‘Time is running out’ to reduce carbon emissions, warns UN

    Ban Ki-moon: world must act on climate change now

    Jeremy Leggett’s call to arms on the energy of nations