Philanthropy and climate action: Uniting for impact at COP 28 - Hindustan Times
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Philanthropy and climate action: Uniting for impact at COP 28

ByHindustan Times
Nov 08, 2023 12:55 PM IST

This article is authored by Neera Nundy, co-founder and partner, Dasra.

As the world grapples with the relentless climate crisis, one question looms larger by the day: Are we doing enough? With discussions on sustainability and eco-consciousness dominating the global stage, philanthropy emerges as a potent yet largely untapped force for change.

A person walks past a “#COP28” sign during The Changemaker Majlis, a one-day CEO-level thought leadership workshop focused on climate action, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on October 1. (REUTERS)
A person walks past a “#COP28” sign during The Changemaker Majlis, a one-day CEO-level thought leadership workshop focused on climate action, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on October 1. (REUTERS)

India, home to over 1.4 billion people, is confronting the harsh realities of the climate crisis, characterised by increasingly frequent heatwaves, erratic monsoons, and rising sea levels. These manifestations lay bare the vulnerabilities in vital aspects such as food security, water resources, and livelihoods. The G20 presidency in India this year has placed the nation in the global spotlight and provided a distinct opportunity to intensify the focus on the climate challenges it faces.

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With COP 28 on the horizon, the philanthropic community in India has a unique window of opportunity to convene, engage in meaningful dialogue, and chart a new course for the country's climate future, contributing to global climate efforts.

Despite India's robust philanthropic community, climate action remains an underfunded priority. Climate initiatives receive only 0.5 % of overall domestic philanthropic funding, covering a mere 10 % of the nation's climate financing needs. The 2022 EdelGive Hurun India Philanthropy List indicated a commendable 46 % increase in donations for environment and sustainability compared to the previous year. However, this apparent surge, while notable, translates to just about 193 crore—a drop in the ocean compared to the trillions required for substantial change.

Within climate investments in India, a skewed focus prevails. Energy, transport, and carbon reduction dominate the funding landscape, with growing interest in sectors like waste management, water treatment, and biodiversity conservation. This disparity is further exacerbated by the concentration of philanthropic resources in more developed states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh, leaving the country's more vulnerable regions underserved.

The India Philanthropy Report 2023 highlights emerging positive shifts within family philanthropy. Two key cohorts, namely the Now-Gen givers—comprising professionals and entrepreneurs with first-generation wealth—and the Inter-Generational givers, which includes the current generation of traditional family philanthropists, are beginning to steer giving toward underrepresented causes, including climate action. In fact, 31 % of donors from both groups are now directing their contributions toward climate action and resilience efforts.

What's even more encouraging is the growing realisation within these cohorts that climate is not an isolated issue but one with intersecting impacts across various sectors. Approximately 15 % of both the Inter-Gen and Now-Gen givers are actively looking to integrate environmental and climate considerations into their existing portfolios, with a future focus on purposeful investments in climate solutions. Areas such as waste management, water treatment, and biodiversity conservation are gaining increased attention from these funders.

While Indian philanthropy is evolving with some positive shifts underway, the urgency of the climate crisis is a resounding wake-up call, prompting funders to reimagine their roles and delve deeper into their approaches. To truly make a difference, philanthropic organisations in this sphere must undertake a comprehensive understanding of India's political, economic, and climate action ecosystems. Here are a few considerations for philanthropy as it shapes its efforts:

  • Amplifying the impact of grassroots initiatives: Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play a vital role in grassroots climate action, yet their small-scale operations often limit their impact. Philanthropy can invest in building their capabilities by providing the necessary resources for capacity building, allowing them to scale programmes and effect meaningful change. It can provide patient and long-term capital and support grassroots CSOs in building sectoral research and knowledge infrastructure, implementing place-based pilot programmes, increasing access and availability of climate change knowledge to these organisations and communities, supporting climate-friendly policy reforms, and providing technical assistance to implement such policies.
  • Bridging the gap between communities and climate initiatives: Facilitating open communication and effective partnerships between CSOs and local communities is essential for lasting climate action. Philanthropy can play a pivotal role in fostering these relationships, strengthening the connection between organisations and the people they serve.
  • Catalysing proximate leadership and adaptation: Local leadership in climate action is crucial for understanding the unique needs of communities. Philanthropy can support grassroots organisations with proximate leadership on climate action, enabling them to cover organisational expenses and adapt to their communities’ needs effectively.
  • Shifting towards an intersectional approach: Recognising that climate action is intertwined with other development goals, such as food security and health, is crucial. Philanthropy can lead this narrative shift towards a more holistic and intersectional perspective, amplifying its impact.

In conclusion, there's immense untapped potential for philanthropy to bolster its commitment, both in financial backing and in reshaping the narrative concerning adaptation and community resilience within a sector that has historically focused on mitigation. The climate crisis, affecting the marginalised disproportionately, underscores the urgency of democratising climate knowledge and solutions.

Acknowledging our limitations and embracing humility is critical. For a climate-resilient future that benefits all, we must actively seek insights from community-facing organisations, fostering collaboration and partnerships.

The imminent COP 28 summit presents a unique opportunity for philanthropists to unite around a common purpose, participating in global climate negotiations, influencing policy, and amplifying their impact on climate action. Philanthropy's unique potential to empower communities, bridge the policy-practise divide, and facilitate the scaling of inclusive and equitable climate solutions can be the linchpin in this endeavour.

This article is authored by Neera Nundy, co-founder and partner, Dasra.

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