10 September 2019

A philanthropic coalition for climate emergency and social justice

We have ten years, ten short years left to activate the transition towards a global system able to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In addition to the environmental imbalances caused by rising temperatures, the impact on the most precarious populations will further aggravate social inequalities. However, the mobilisation of the philanthropic sector remains surprisingly low, not exceeding 3% of global donations directly allocated for environmental causes. [i]

From 22 – 24 May 2019, the EFC Annual General Assembly was held in Paris, which brought together more than 800 representatives of foundations. The timing of the debates was crucial. On the eve of high-risk European elections, the topic of the event “Liberté, Egalité, Philanthropie” was a call for mobilisation. Beyond this major political and moral crisis, a second challenge appeared in the debates, that of the climate emergency.

Some panels focused on the climate issue directly, while others − dedicated to data, migration, food or communication topics − addressed the climate issue as a major and transversal challenge. Several speakers recalled the ten-year “countdown” to reverse the trend detailed in the latest IPCC report published in October 2018. [ii]. Despite the emergency and the limited time we have to act, the involvement of the foundation world and global philanthropy in the fight against climate change is incredibly weak.

Foundations are sometimes facing their own contradictions: They often work alone; their programmes are siloed, with few systemic approaches to problems; they do not leverage financial investment tools to increase their impact; and they often think they have the solution, without always listening to their partners.

Facing those challenges, we need to be bold, think clearly about the vision we have, not be afraid to take risks, and do things differently. As foundations, we enjoy a privileged position due to our independence, our resources, our flexibility, our knowledge of the field and our commitment to the common good.

So, why not imagine a coalition of philanthropic actors to declare a ten-year mobilisation addressing both challenges: climate emergency and social justice.

Engage your organisation as an agent of change

Foundations can begin their journey with simple actions:

  • Not only speak the language of the “established” Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in your programmes, but put forward more ambitious indicators
  • Ensure that your programmes are in accordance with the plan for limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius
  • Manage your financial portfolio in a way that helps fight climate change [iii].
  • Act on your daily practices: work premises; transportation; event planning; water and energy flow management; procurement management; food choices, etc.
  • Build together the narrative of a philanthropic sector committed to a green and egalitarian transition

The Fondation Daniel et Nina Carasso, under the aegis of the Fondation de France, has started this long process of reviewing its practices and operating modes. As early as 2015, we had already embarked on improving our investment policy by signing the Divest/Invest initiative and initiating an impact investing policy. Today, we are working on aligning our programmes with the SDGs, on reducing our carbon footprint in our practices, and on defining new targets for sustainable and impact investments.

Engage with others to accelerate change

Foundations working on social transformation know that sustainable change comes from a combination of different actions that come together, end-to-end, to put society in motion. In addition, it needs long-term commitment and new partnerships with other public and private actors. A subject as important as climate requires breaking the boundaries between the types of organisation, including those in the commercial sector.

With climate change, all areas of philanthropy are or will be impacted. While many foundations are already engaged in this fight, the mobilisation is neither sufficient nor organised, despite the enthusiasm of the Paris Agreement and awareness of the subject thanks to repeated warnings from scientists.

We need to act in a systemic and partnership-based way, both to support concrete levers of action (e.g. agro-ecology, waste reduction, soft mobility, reduction of water and energy consumption, etc.); develop research; influence economic and political decision-makers; change regulation; invest in the green economy; and finally, mobilise consciences for a profound cultural change.

Within the Fondation Daniel et Nina Carasso, we see how much these questions are transversal and involve a global approach. As noted in the IPCC “Climate Change and Land” report, released on 8 August 2019, there is a clear link between climate change and our food systems. On the one hand, climate change has an impact on our food security and, on the other, our food choices are decisive in fighting against this change. That analysis furthermore supports the systemic vision we are carrying through our “Sustainable Food” programmes. Our second programme called “Art in the Community” also reflects the climate issue, bringing together both artists and scientists to share visions and practices.

Foster a philanthropic coalition

To meet these challenges, it is time for European (and global) foundations to show their leadership in designing a framework for the next ten years. The major national and European philanthropy networks − led by the EFC as part of the celebration of its 30th anniversary − could launch a broad coalition to identify, with the help of their members and experts, a few thematic priorities with the greatest impact in the fight against climate change, while guaranteeing social justice. These priorities could be then transcribed into action plans (e.g. field actions, advocacy, research, education, etc.). Foundations could join this coalition, committing over the next ten years, either to dedicate all or part of their own programmes in relation to these themes (with a strong monitoring and evaluation process) and/or to work with other actors (private and public) in the long term on one of these issues (see rules of Collective Impact process).

In the face of climate emergency and threats to social justice, we have to act together and now. Although the world of philanthropy will not solve all the problems, it has a lot to contribute. The question is: Are we ready for this major mobilisation?


[i] The environment sector is only the 9th priority of French foundations with 3% of the number of foundations committed to this theme (Observatoire de la Fondation de France – 2018). In the United States, the environment area is also ranked 9th in generosity with 3% of donations in the “environment/animals” category (Giving USA 2018). The “Environmental Funding by European Foundations – Volume 4” report, published by the EFC in 2018, is based on the responses of 87 foundations committed for 583 million euros (2016 figures), while the DAFNE network – quoted on the EFC website – gives a figure of 147,000 foundations in Europe with an annual expenditure of 60 billion. Of course, these numbers do not reflect the full engagement of foundations on environmental issues directly or indirectly, but their level shows the weakness of the philanthropic response to the sector.

[ii] The IPCC report recalls that meeting current commitments under the Paris Agreement, as presented in the “Nationally Determined Contributions”, will not be sufficient to limit global warming to 1.5°C. It also stresses that the impacts on health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth will increase compared to today in the case of a warming of 1.5°C, and even more in the case of 2° C warming.

[iii] I highly recommend reading the article “Time to change the way we invest” by Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director, Wallace Global Fund, published in Alliance magazine on 16 July 2019.



Marie-Stéphane Maradeix

Executive Director, Fondation Daniel et Nina Carasso