Climate philanthropy after COP28

Naira Bonilla Erika Miller from WINGs call on philanthropy to support a just transition and back affected communities.

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Naira Bonilla is the Communication Coordinator at WINGS. She has worked for multiple NGOs leading communication strategies and increasing engagement between different stakeholders in rural and urban areas. She holds a bachelor's degree in International Relations and an MA in Environment, Development, and Policy from the University of Sussex.

Erika Miller is the Climate Coordinator at WINGS. Her previous experience includes working with iNGOs and leading the Canadian PhilanthropyForClimate movement. Erika has a BA in Global Development and is currently doing an MSc in Climate Change and Development at SOAS.

COP28 ended in a historic, though weak agreement. In the final text, parties recognise “the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” and encourage “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner”.

This was certainly a win, as it is the first time that moving away from fossil fuels is mentioned in any COP agreement, and it gives us a clear path to follow.

The global support for this transition has come after decades of advocacy from civil society groups and frontline communities. However, as with previous COP texts, this agreement is not ambitious enough.

By not calling for a complete and immediate phase-out of fossil fuels, wording that was opposed by 130 of the 198 parties, this outcome falls short of securing a safe and just future for people and planet.

Just like the final COP texts we have seen before, that of COP28 is rife with legal loopholes and inadequate accountability measures that undermine this breakthrough moment. There is much room for improvement and lots of work to be done, and we see philanthropy as a key player in supporting the transformational changes that are needed.

Philanthropy can use its unique capabilities and positionality to engage with the entirety of the COP process and support the transformational action and policies needed for climate justice. 

The WINGS team was in Dubai for COP28 and here are some of our main takeaways on how the sector can actively participate in closing the gap needed to reach global climate goals. 

The Conference of the Parties (COPs) are not one-off events, but yearly milestone moments in the global climate policy regime. During each COP, the 198 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change gather to assess global efforts to advance the key Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The hope is that year after year, we see both achievements and ambition on the rise. Philanthropy has a role to play in supporting this process by contributing to national climate plans and supporting delegations and highlighting diverse voices.

“Philanthropy can use its unique capabilities to… support the transformational action and policies needed for climate justice.”

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The UAE hosted COP28 in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December 2023. Photo: Shutterstock Hero image: Shutterstock.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), are the national “climate action plans to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts”, which are required to be submitted and systematically updated by the Parties.

In 2025, countries must submit updated versions of their NDCs that align with recent agreements and are more ambitious than previous versions. Philanthropy can support the consultations for this new round of NDCs by funding the implementation and development of action plans, supporting advocacy groups that lobby policymakers, facilitating inclusive and participatory processes by funding consultation efforts that involve diverse stakeholders and centres the voices of civil society and frontline communities, and supporting governments with technical assistance and expertise needed to develop robust strategies.

Similarly, philanthropy can support the COP process by sponsoring negotiators and delegates from underrepresented countries and communities. Some countries that are on the frontlines of the climate crisis do not have the resources to send official delegations and are outnumbered in negotiations and side events by fossil fuel and business executives who have different interests.

At COP28, fossil fuel lobbyists received more passes than all the delegates from the ten most climate-vulnerable nations combined, according to Global Witness. Philanthropy can play a role in balancing the scales so that participation is also reflective of those closest to the crisis.

The inclusion of new voices in the COP process needs to be approached with an intersectional lens. At COP28, there was a strong focus on the connections between climate change and other development issues like health and food security, and we saw, for the first time, thematic-focused days, including Health Day and Gender Equality Day.

This increasing recognition of the intersectional nature of the climate crisis is a great opportunity for philanthropy. Health and education are the two main focus areas for foundations across the world, and including a climate lens in all areas of work is necessary should we wish to curb the dangers of the climate crisis.

By listening to communities at the intersection of multiple issues and tapping into their knowledge and lived experiences, our actions to address the crisis will become more effective.  

Philanthropy’s ability to use its capital to take risks, support innovation by making the first move and to support social movements and new ambitious visions for our societies means the sector has a key catalytic role to play in testing, proving, and scaling long-term climate solutions.

The sector’s flexibility to be risk-seeking is a privilege that most other private sectors do not have, and the risk itself is marginal compared to the cost of inaction.

A recent study showed that not taking climate action will result in damages to infrastructure, property, agriculture, and human health that could amount to US$3.1 trillion per year. Here lies a unique opportunity to leverage foundations’ assets and endowments that amount to US$1.5trn globally.

“The unprecedented temperatures and natural disasters that have gripped the globe over the past year require urgent, transformational action.”

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Governments agreed to phase out fossil fuels at COP28. Photo: Shutterstock

As showcased at COP28, there is a magnitude of solutions already in existence that can be implemented to address the effects of the climate crisis. From investing in innovative business models to protect coral reefs to AI technology that detects all of the world’s CO2 emissions and financing growth of regenerative and agroecology businesses, philanthropy is an essential partner in funding and scaling a wide array of innovative and transformative solutions.

Philanthropy’s engagement in climate action is not limited to climate funders. The intersectional nature of climate change with all other development challenges that our sector seeks to address means that integrating a climate lens to our work is imperative for innovative solutions that address root causes. Through the global #PhilanthropyForClimate movement, funders are committing to taking a climate just approach to their funding, operations, endowments and advocacy. 

Philanthropy can also harness its catalytic role to drive necessary narrative shifts to build political and community will around a shared vision. The sector can use its influence, power, and platform to support and showcase stories that shift society away from the problematic narratives standing in the way of meaningful action.

Narratives such as the necessary reliance on fossil fuels for a thriving society, the idea that we can consume our way out of the crisis only by switching to “green” alternatives, or the excessive focus on individual actions without holding companies and governments accountable are misleading and fail to encompass the systemic scale of the solutions needed.

Compelling stories about a future that centres equity and justice for people and the planet can inspire more thoughtful climate action. 

The unprecedented temperatures and natural disasters that have gripped the globe over the past year require urgent, transformational action that is not reflected in the final agreement of COP28.

Philanthropy can and should use its unique capabilities and role to engage with the COP process and support action and policies like those outlined above.

As a bridge builder and convenor, philanthropy can bring together diverse stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, governments and grassroots communities to implement and catalyse complex solutions for this complex problem.

Philanthropic resources are but a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to save our future, but COP28 has given us a renewed sense of belief in the systemic changes this sector can help create. There is no time to waste.

WINGS invites all foundations, regardless of their mission, status or geographic location to join the #PhilanthropyForClimate movement and signal their commitment to just climate action.

The movement includes several national philanthropy commitments on climate change and the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change with over 700 signatories worldwide. For more information, click here.  

This article was first published by WINGS. You can access the original content here.