January 13th, 2021

8 ideas for funders and philanthropists to start tackling climate change in 2021

By Henrike Doebert and Dr. Johannes Lundershausen

2021 is already marked by important climate and political events, announcements, promising multilateral developments and anticipated action that now require strong determination when it comes to implementing them. While these developments are crucial, the role of foundations, funders and philanthropists remains equally important. Their outreach can potentially be particularly effective and impactful in a year like 2021 where the course is set for the future. But how and where do you start? We have compiled some ideas to kick off with. You may also take notes from Richard Black’s shortlist who we interviewed most recently.

1. Keep an eye on major events

Looking ahead, 2021 must be a year of concerted efforts across sectors to implement the announcements that have been made. This year will see high-level political decisions at different moments leading up to COP26. Philanthropists who seek to advance climate action efficiently may use the coming months to shape these events – be it by supporting civil society movements, underrepresented groups, scientific background analysis, networking events or consultations. We prepared an initial list of top events for you.

2. Support climate justice initiatives

Climate justice, especially when it comes to international climate finance, will be a potential breaking point for a successful COP26. Moreover, the success of the Paris Agreement depends on the parties’ implementation of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards the Agreement’s goals. Philanthropists can, for instance, support activities targeted at holding developed countries accountable to what they promised as part of the Agreement and showcase the potential of supporting mitigation and low-carbon development in developing countries.

3. Engage in and monitor regulatory efforts

While the commitments to long term net-zero targets are very encouraging, the regulatory frameworks that will ensure the decrease of emissions still have to be worked out by most countries. Supporting initiatives that accompany this process and watch the environmental integrity of the rulesets can have a big and lasting impact.

4. Back just transition projects

The transformational changes required on the ground are huge and the impacts on our societies and communities potentially very deep. Supporting initiatives and research on a just transition to a low carbon economy can lead to a wider acceptance of the economic measures required and thereby remove important barriers. Our climate philanthropy guide “Funding the Future” gives some great examples.


5. Engage in or initiate discussions on recovery packages

Nationally, supporting advocacy and shaping debates around recovery packages can have a long-term impact by avoiding lock-in into carbon intensive technologies for many years to come, accelerating the transition, and ensuring that vulnerable groups are not left behind. This may seem rather political compared to a lot of more traditional fields of philanthropic engagement. But this is where the course for the next years will be set with an impact on virtually all areas of philanthropic giving ranging from education, health, protection of nature and how just and democratic our societies will be. Also here, the climate philanthropy guide delivers valuable impulses.



6. Advocate climate-friendly farming

In the EU, a key factor for reaching the ambitious climate targets will be the reform of the agricultural sector. While the cornerstones of the new Common Agricultural Policy that will be in place from 2021 to 2027 have been set in 2020 (very much to the disappointment of environment protection organizations) the measures that qualify for funding as newly introduced “eco-schemes” need to be defined by the individual member countries. Philanthropists can support initiatives that advocate for measures protecting the climate and biodiversity, research on innovative farming practices or farmers who test environmentally friendly approaches on the ground. And, even if it still seems far away, it is the moment to start getting involved to make the reform of EU Agricultural Policy that will apply from 2027 an actual shift for our environment and climate.


7. Re-evaluate your investments

In March 2021, a new EU sustainability related disclosure regulation (part of the EU’s sustainable finance package) that applies to all financial market players will enter into force. Manufacturers of financial products thereby are obliged to disclose risks for sustainability and the regulation also added disclosure obligations as regards adverse impacts on sustainability matters at entity and financial products levels. This may be a good occasion to assess where and how your capital is currently invested and make more sustainable choices. Taken the current dynamics, this will not only benefit the environment but potentially also be wise and profitable financially.


8. Monitor your environment and get inspired

Some impulses take longer until they spark fire. One of the best sources for fresh and thoughtful ideas are your own surroundings. Keep an eye out for new materials published, have (still virtual) conversations with peers, friends, people you work with. The best ideas are often right at your doorstep. Just recently, Active published its first climate philanthropy guide where we gathered numerous ideas, examples, voices and cases that may serve as your source of inspiration to kick off a genuine climate year 2021!

If you are interested in any of these topics and ideas as a funder or philanthropists, contact Henrike Doebert or Dr. Johannes Lundershausen for further advice and information.