As communities around the globe press their case at the COP27 conference in Egypt that climate damage is forcing migration and causing suffering as never before, philanthropic foundations pooled their resources to donate more than $2 billion to support climate adaptation projects. Overall, though the amount of charitable funding directed toward climate related projects remains small.
Global climate talks were scheduled to end negotiations Friday, though many expect they will go beyond the deadline to reach a deal.
On COP27's opening day last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced $1.4 billion in support for agricultural projects, across Africa and South Asia that it said will help small farmers adapt to climate change. The commitment was $434 million larger than initially planned through 2025, funding projects including research to increase the productivity of seeds and livestock farming and a partnership that would provide weather information to farmers in East Africa by text message.
The Gates Foundation pledged another $7 billion over four years to go to its work on agriculture, health and gender equality in Africa while Bill Gates was visiting Kenya.
Gates warned Thursday, at an event with students at the University of Nairobi, that aid or investments from governments to finance climate adaptation and mitigation was limited and may be reduced because of the war in Ukraine and the cost of energy.
“A lot of these health and climate solutions are going to have to be very frugal because even though I’m the biggest proponent and meeting with rich people and politicians all the time that they should do even more — we’re not going to see some gigantic uptick in those amounts,” Gates said, adding, “Really innovation and spending what aid resources there are, also increasing domestic resources, will be very necessary.”
Philanthropic giving to support projects that try to prevent the worst impacts of climate change represented less than 2% of all estimated philanthropic donations in 2021, though it grew faster than other categories, according to a report by ClimateWorks Foundation.
In addition to making financial pledges, philanthropic foundations facilitated conversations at pavilions and side events, said Alice Amorim, project coordinator, Global Philanthropy for Climate Movement. Her organization seeks to engage philanthropies to be active on climate issues and to help them find entry points, with some 600 foundations from all over the world having joined to date.
“It’s not necessarily about the size of the pledges of the money, but its catalytic role that it can play,” like providing seed money or enabling projects that corporations or governments aren't willing to back, she said. For example, some foundations help shape agreements that countries like South Africa and Indonesia are making with lenders and other nations to increase the use of renewable energy sources.
Amorim also pointed to the way that philanthropic collaborations have grown from year to year with the Forests, People, Climate collaborative raising another $400 million. The collaborative is dedicated to reversing tropical deforestation in part through channeling funds to grassroots organizations.
A group of foundations, including Bloomberg Philanthropies and Sequoia Climate Foundation, jointly pledged $500 million to support an equitable energy transition in low and middle-income countries, though each organization will decide where to grant its portion of the funds.
“We recognize that the international community continues to fall unacceptably short of its promises for financial support to tackle climate change and its impacts," said Christie Ulman, President of Sequoia Climate Foundation, in a statement. "While this investment cannot and is not intended to make up for it, we are working to support countries in addressing their challenges and commitment to a clean energy transition."
The Ikea Foundation promoted research that it says will guide its donations of $620 million (€600 million), part of a pledge made at last year’s climate summit in Glasgow to give $1.03 billion (€1 billion) over five years to climate change programs.
The Bezos Earth Fund disclosed it would invest $50 million in restoring degraded landscapes in two places: along the Rusizi River that runs between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, and in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. That amount is part of the $3 billion that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos first announced in Glasgow that the fund would spend on land conservation and restoration and the transformation of food systems.
The fund along with the The Rockefeller Foundation and the U.S. State Department also launched a new initiative to try to connect private funds with countries seeking to phase out the use of coal through carbon credits. They hope to work with countries that already have made energy transition commitments, like South Africa and Indonesia.
“What we keep on hearing from those countries is, you know, where is the help going to come from? Where is the concessional capital? Where is the grant-like capital going to come from?” Dr. Joe Curtin, director of the Rockefeller Foundation's climate and power team.
Retiring coal plants, which he said would likely be the focus of the mechanism, would require some investments that do not require a return, he said.
The project, which U.S. climate envoy John Kerry announced last week, met resistance from some governments and civil society organizations who said further carbon credit systems have the potential to allow polluters to continue polluting. The Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley proposed another initiative to unlock financing to support energy transitions and other climate adaptation measures by altering the terms under which major international development banks offer loans.
The Rockefeller Foundation also announced $11 million in grants to support agricultural projects that promote soil health, water quality and biodiversity — especially those drawing on indigenous knowledge as part of a transition away from industrial farming that relies on fossil fuel based fertilizers which generate large amounts of greenhouse gases.
“This represents a real shift and a message that we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels in our food system,” said Roy Steiner, senior vice president for the foundation's food initiative. The foundation announced $105 million in funding for health and sustainable food systems in March and these grants are a part of that commitment.
A project launched by the Ikea Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Bezos Earth Fund at last year's COP, the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet, also signed an agreement with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to finance $1 billion in energy transition projects.
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