17 November 2023

Decoding COP28: Key numbers that philanthropy needs to know

In the sea of climate change, numbers serve as more than mere statistics – they are beacons, at once both warning of the perils of the crisis we are facing and at the same time providing a course for the direction we must take. As we approach COP28, these numbers represent both threat and opportunity, as well as suggest the pivotal role philanthropy can play in helping to chart a more sustainable future course.

Let’s start with probably the most important number when it comes to fighting the climate emergency: the 1.5 degree target, a cornerstone of the landmark Paris Agreement, agreed during COP21 in 2015. The aspiration to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels is not just a scientific benchmark; it’s a lifeline for our planet’s ecosystems, habitats, and vulnerable communities. According to the IPCC we have 7 years to halve emissions by 2030, compared to 2020 levels, to have a chance of not surpassing the 1.5-degree goal. The planet has already experienced a warming of 1.2 degrees, highlighting the necessity of immediate and decisive action. Philanthropic funders play a key role to ensure that the climate crisis does not spiral out of control, for example by funding climate research, supporting grass-root led initiatives or advocacy efforts or by ensuring that the voices of marginalised communities are heard in key climate fora.  A stark reminder that we are still far away from solving the climate crisis is the possibility, under a worst case scenario, that the world temperature will have risen by 4.4 degrees by the end of the century as highlighted by the IPCC in one of its latest landmark report. This is the scenario to be avoided at all costs, as it would have irreversible consequences around the world. With COP28 taking place in Dubai, it is important to underline that the Middle East and Arab Region (MENA), are already facing an increase of temperatures at almost double the rate the rest of the world and it goes without saying that 4.4 degrees would have dire consequences for one of the most vulnerable regions on the planet.

1 billion children are at risk to climate change, as highlighted by UNICEF in their report introducing the children’s climate risk index. It’s a reminder that the climate crisis isn’t a distant threat; it’s a present and immediate danger to nearly half of all children worldwide. The report illuminates the sobering reality that children bear the brunt of climate change, being more vulnerable to extreme weather, toxic hazards, and related diseases. For example, during periods of drought or in regions with limited water resources, children are less able to secure access to clean water and food. As our planet continues to warm up, their future becomes even more precarious, marked by increasing catastrophic events. This data underscores the urgency and importance of COP28 in addressing the greatest threat facing the world’s children and young people.

It is worth noting that this will be the 29th anniversary since the first COP. These yearly conferences are a key gathering to address the climate crisis, with stakeholders from all levels of society coming together. While it can be argued that the COPs have not yielded major results, as emissions and temperatures continue to increase, we would be in a much worse situation without them. It is expected that more than 70,000 participants will gather in Dubai. While there will be a wide range of diverse participants, it is important to note that temperatures are not the only numbers rising: during the last COP, held in Egypt, more than 600 fossil fuel lobbyists participated, a 25% increase from the previous year. This year’s COP will also see the 1st Global Stocktake (GST) taking place, which is a mechanism aimed at providing a diagnosis of how the world is collectively progressing toward our climate goals, where we are off-course, and what transformations we need to make to move toward a climate-safe future. You can find more information on the GST in this brilliant opinion piece from Hannah Roeyer (iGST).

Then there is the crucial number of $100 billion commitment ‘developed countries’ made to ‘developing countries’ by 2020 to fund climate action. This goal, though just a fraction of what is needed, remains unfulfilled. Due to the current lack of trust between ‘developed’ and ‘developing countries’ in climate-related actions, it is crucial for climate finance to undergo a significant increase in the coming years. While philanthropy directed less than 2% (approximately $6-10 billion) of global funds toward climate action in 2020, climate philanthropy has a role to play. It can catalyse both public and private investment, support riskier projects, and initiate innovation by providing initial capital for ventures that may become successful and sustainable climate-friendly enterprises. Although philanthropy alone cannot bridge the climate finance gap, it can significantly contribute to the collective effort in meeting climate finance goals.

Finally, 653 signatories to the #PhilanthropyForClimate movement, which includes several national philanthropic commitments on climate change and the International Commitment on Climate Change initiated by WINGS and the European Philanthropy Coalition for Climate. This growing movement is instrumental in building momentum to ensure that foundations’ endowments, operations, and grant-making are aligned with a climate-proof future. In Europe, the economic contribution of philanthropy is significant. Europe is home to over 147,000 philanthropic organisations, collectively contributing nearly €60 billion in annual donations with a combined asset base exceeding €511 billion. There exists substantial untapped potential in promoting environmentally responsible investments within endowments and elevating the proportion of annual spending allocated to climate-related initiatives.

In the face of these critical numbers and the approaching COP28, the message is resoundingly clear: the climate crisis is here, and we cannot afford to be passive observers. While past COP conferences may have faced challenges, they remain vital forums to solve the climate crisis. The time for action is now, and philanthropic actors are uniquely positioned to be agents of meaningful change on this pressing global issue.

Find out more on COP28 and its implications for the philanthropic world with a webinar on 1 February

Image credit: UN Climate Change


Marco Cucé
Programme Officer – Climate Collaborations, Philea