The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation was established in 1966 in California to promote a better world. Its Environment Program awards grants in the field of climate and energy as well as nature conservation. In 2021, the programme awarded 293 million USD – constituting one of the foundations major funding areas and making the foundation one of the largest grant-makers in the environmental sector.
Climate solutions will only work if people have a clear sense how they can enhance their well-being, about the obstacles that are in the way of those solutions, and their role in helping make progress on climate. Communication, in this way, has a key role to play in gaining broad public support for climate action. It helps inspire people to come together to achieve that vision and can elevate citizen voices in shaping climate solutions for their communities.
An important aspect of Communication is combatting climate disinformation. For example, historically, climate denialism has been a major factor in stalling support for climate action from the public and decision-makers. This did not happen in a vacuum – in fact, the fossil industry has employed sophisticated communication strategies to shape public perceptions. In the same way, philanthropies must employ strategies to communicate the truth about climate change and feasible solutions.
Application in Practice
In 2020, the Hewlett Foundation launched a funding commitment that allocated 20 million USD to support climate communication based on an assessment that identified gaps and opportunities in the climate communications field.
Hewlett first prioritised funding digital and social media communications to mainstream best practices, combat misinformation, and provide capacity to local organizations. In this vein, the Foundation supports the Digital Climate Coalition, a communications hub that connects grassroots groups with each other and improves their digital expertise.
Second, the Hewlett Foundation funded groups that could serve as a hub for evidence-based climate communications. An example of this is the Global Strategic Communications Council, a network promoting science-based stories about the zero-carbon transition and its benefits for people and nature.
Acknowledging the importance of people-centred storytelling, Hewlett has also supported the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, a re-granter which works to enhance grassroots groups’ skills in strategic communications.
Finally, recognising the prevailing lack of funding for Communication, the Hewlett Foundation has worked with other funders to help advocate for and drive investments to high-impact communications opportunities.
Through its funding, the Hewlett Foundation has helped grantees to change the public discourse about climate change. While, just a few years ago, public opinion was divided on whether anthropogenic climate change existed or not, today there is a general agreement on this, and the public debate is focused on climate solutions that improve well-being of communities. While the work continues, public support for the adoption of climate solutions has made it such that decision-makers are raising their climate ambition.
What has worked well?
- Tell local stories: Connecting climate to the local level helps to turn climate change from a politicised issue to a personal one. Climate Central, for example, draws on TV meteorologists as trusted messengers to help audiences understand how climate change is impacting their daily lives.
- Use the virtual space: Virtual spaces have the potential to incubate communities of action. Communication needs to engage people digitally around shared values. Drawing on influencers in social media, for example, has an opportunity to scale up with more funding.
What are opportunities for new funders?
- Combat false narratives: Fighting digital disinformation continues to be underfunded. One opportunity for new funders is to put pressure on digital platforms to raise their ambition in regulating false information.