Jan 12, 2016

By Michael Northrop, Program Director, at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. This article first appeared on the Huffington Post Blog.
Ambassador Laurence Tubiana, France's point person for COP21, wisely explained a year ago that Paris will be judged a success if it leads to the conclusion that the shift to the post-fossil fuel era is inevitable. That feeling of inevitability, she reasoned, will underpin the massive shift of trillions of dollars required to pay for the low carbon transition.
The positive conclusion of the Paris conference on December 12, coupled with the enormous array of commitments made before, during, and after the COP, indicates that a massive systemic change is afoot.
Let's review.
First, what happened in Paris between November 30 and December 12?
Second, what else has happened before and since that adds to the growing sense of inevitability?
At the formal conference venue some of the well reported highlights included:

  • The largest gathering of heads of state in history on November 30.
  • The approval of an agreement to tackle climate change by 196 nations on December 12.
  • The formal submission of 188 national climate action plans, and an agreement to review and improve plans every five years.
  • Aggregate commitments - inside those plans - to reduce global emissions by around 11 gigatons by 2030, or a little less than half of what is required, but a significant down payment nonetheless.
  • A call to stabilize the global temperature increase at 1.5 degrees celcius - what scientists say is the minimum threshold of safety for the planet, and to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the second half of this century. These long term targets were a critical point of debate by negotiators as they are essentially a call for an end to the fossil fuel era by mid-century.
  • Agreement to mobilize at least $100 billion of annual funding beginning in 2020 to support the low carbon transition in developing countries.
  • Notable calls for urgent action from several formerly recalcitrant nations, including China, Russia, Australia, and Canada. (Recent elections in two of these nations -- Australia and Canada -- tossed out Prime Ministers, who had actively sought to slow international climate progress in recent years.)

With most of the formal government and media attention focused on the main conference center at the historic Le Bourget airport (Charles Lindbergh landed here in 1927 after his solo flight across the Atlantic), you needed eyeballs all over town to catch the scores of other dramatic announcements in Paris:

  • Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, announced creation of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, the largest ever multibillion dollar clean energy fund.
  • The Indian and French Prime Ministers Modi and Holland launched an International Solar Alliance to raise a $1 trillion over 15 years to make solar affordable in sun-rich countries.
  • The African Union and the African Development Bank rolled out a plan to deliver at least 300 gigawatts of renewable energy to their continent by 2030 - twice the amount currently generated from all energy sources combined.
  • 53 global companies, including Apple, Google, Ikea, Marks and Spencer, Microsoft, Philips, Proctor and Gamble, Unilever and Walmart, announced their plans to shift to 100 percent renewable energy. An initiative called RE100, which helped rally many of these pledges, sees this as just the beginning of a wave of private sector commitments to go 100 percent renewable. The purchasing and political power of these global firms may be just what's needed to reform the way energy is procured.
  • 114 companies affirmed their commitment to setting and adopting "science based" GHG reduction targets that are ambitious enough to prevent dangerous warming.
  • Nearly 90 cities adopted at least an 80 percent by 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goal.
  • 436 mayors, at an all-day, multi-media, Paris City Hall celebration announced their intentions to join a global Compact of Cities to support worldwide municipal ambition on climate.
  • A few days later in the same building, 44 Governors and Premiers, together representing 325 million people and over $10.5 trillion in GDP - one eighth of the global economy - reported that their own Compact of States and Regions is committed to reducing their combined emissions over the next 15 years by an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of China.
  • In serial signing ceremonies across the two weeks of the COP, 123 jurisdictions, many from developing countries, collectively representing more than 720 million people and $19.9 trillion in combined GDP, or about a quarter of the global economy, announced their decisions to join an "Under2MOU" - a commitment to reduce emissions by 80 percent or emit no more than 2 tons of CO2 per capita.
  • 29 Governors of forested regions in Latin America, Asia and Africa, who comprise the Governors' Climate and Forests Taskforce, affirmed their intention to reduce deforestation - a major cause of climate change - by 80 percent by 2020.
  • In a signed editorial appearing in The Seattle Times and other media outlets at the start of the Paris COP, American Governors Jerry Brown, Kate Brown, and Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark announced that their Pacific Coast Collaborative, a region that would be the world's fourth largest economy if combined, is successfully creating a model for low carbon economic integration, having successfully shown that ambitious climate action and economic success are interdependent and not in conflict.
  • African countries launched the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), which intends to restore 100 million hectares (247 million acres) of degraded and deforested landscapes by 2030.
  • Norway, Germany and the United Kingdom pledged $5 billion during 2015-2020 to support forest conservation efforts in less developed countries.
  • In a clear sign that fighting global warming is becoming an attractive cultural norm, a widely noticed Vogue Magazine photo essay, timed for release on day 1 of COP21 features 13 of the formidable women leading the way to action on climate.
  • 1,700 health associations, 13 million doctors and health professionals, along with 8,200 hospitals, as members of the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge joined the World Health Organization in calling for a robust international deal to protect public health, and pledged to take action to reduce their carbon footprints, divest from fossil fuels, and address the impact of climate change in their communities.
  • The World Green Building Council pledged that the building sector will do its part by reducing building emissions by 84 gigatons by 2050 - an amount equal to 8 years of China's current annual emissions. The WGBC also pledged to achieve net zero carbon new building and energy efficient refurbishment of the existing building stock by 2050. Three of the 74 Green Building Councils - in South Africa, Canada and Australia - also announced their plans to start net zero building certification programs. Others councils are gearing up to follow their lead.
  • 100 endowments, cities, faith institutions, hospitals, pension funds and universities, including large new entrants - Allianz Insurance, and pension funds CalPERS and CalSTRS - joined 400 already declared sister institutions, in a promise to divest from coal, and, in some cases, other fossil fuels, bringing the combined assets under management committed to divestment to $3.4 trillion.
  • The aggregate total of assets under management committed to divesting has rapidly grown from $50 billion in September 2014, to $2.6 trillion in September 2015, and now to $3.4 trillion in December 2015 -- a remarkable 15-month (nearly 70x) growth trajectory.
  • Bank of England Governor Mark Carney publicly named Michael Bloomberg to lead a panel that will draw up reporting standards on climate risks to G-20 economies. Carney made news last year when he said climate change and stranded carbon were material risks to the economy and investors.
  • France, just prior to the COP, became the first nation to require institutional investors to disclose their carbon exposure. (Calls for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to require similar disclosures have also been made.)
  • Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo joined other global banks, including Bank of America, BNP Paribas, Citibank, Credit Agricole, ING, Natixis and Societe Generale, in announcing policies to dial back their financing for coal mining and coal power plant construction.
  • Carbon pricing was also an important topic of conversation in Paris, even though it was not part of the multilateral negotiation.
  • Manitoba announced in Paris that it will join Ontario, Quebec and California in a carbon trading system. New York State has indicated it wants the explore joining as well and that it would like the northeastern Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that it helps anchor to link up as well.
  • The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) reported in Paris that more than 1,000 companies have or plan to implement an internal carbon price, often of $40 or more.
  • CDP also announced that, by its calculations, countries representing over 90 percent of G20 nations' gross domestic product will have carbon pricing policies in place by 2018.

Each scan of Paris related news feeds, press releases and media coverage unearths additional announcements made at one or another venue in Paris. You get the idea though. Paris was a monumental signaling of serious and determined change by a sprawling array of public, private and civic interests. Never had any of the other 20 COPs since 1995 produced anywhere near as many announcements or layers of organized ambition and activity. One observer estimated there were at least 50 separate venues running nearly non-stop over two weeks in Paris with highly organized programs designed months in advance. This was especially impressive given the tragic terrorist attacks two weeks before the COP began. Incredibly, no one seemed seriously deterred by the attacks, least of all the French. When French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced the COP was moving forward a few days after the tragic attacks, no one blinked.
In addition to the scores of formal conference programs, there were hundreds of other meetings, conferences, and informal gatherings all across Paris. Meetings of all sizes and shapes occurred in conference centers, museums, hotels, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and living rooms across the city during the two week conference, and for every hour of scheduling this participant had in his calendar there were multiple invitations for events occurring simultaneously. The determination of those who flocked to Paris was ferocious.
In part, the fury and the optimism of Paris was also a product of nearly three years of preparation and momentum-building announcements and commitments. After suffering something akin to post traumatic stress after the failure of the Copenhagen COP six years earlier in 2009, advocates, policymakers, business leaders, and civic groups from across the globe worked deliberately to avoid another Copenhagen-like failure.
The Road to Paris began to become a serious meme in early 2013. U.S. President Obama was re-elected to a second term in November 2012, and unexpectedly after a lackluster first term on climate, he articulated in his election night remarks and in his second inaugural speech in January 2013 that climate change would be a core second term priority. Insiders at the White House say Science Advisor John Holdren had begun a private email exchange with the President about the accelerating negative impacts of climate change in the weeks prior to Obama's winning re-election to a second term.
Within weeks of the President's public expressions of interest in acting on climate, COP veterans, civil society organizations, business leaders, and leading governments, sensing the opportunity they had been waiting for, began crafting 'Road to Paris' strategies. They all seemed to boil down to paving that road with growing amounts of signaling and momentum to encourage government negotiators to aim high and avoid repeating Copenhagen.
There's no way here to detail all that happened between early 2013 and the December 2015 Paris COP. A book will be written later. But it is worth noting some of the big things that began to add serious momentum along the Road to Paris. These included:

  • President Obama's ambitious Climate Action Plan, unveiled at Georgetown University in June 2013, to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, vehicles, and appliances, cut international financing for coal fired power plants, increase deployment of renewables, and reduce methane leaks from aging infrastructure and oil drilling.
  • The September 2013 announcement that Nordic countries will join the U.S., U.K. and the World Bank Group in restricting financing for coal fired power plants.
  • The related follow-on pledge just prior to Paris in late 2015 by 34 OECD nations, including longtime holdouts, Japan and Australia, to limit financing for coal plants.
  • China's August 2014 decision to begin phasing in a national carbon permit trading market in 2016, after successful pilot programs in 7 regions started in 2013.
  • The August 2014 announcement by the International Union of Architects at its World Congress in Durban, South Africa, that its 124 member organizations and 1.3 million architects worldwide unanimously approve a declaration that supports phasing out all carbon emissions from buildings by 2050.
  • New York City adopts an 80 percent GHG goal in September 2014, then follows up in July 2015 with a proposal to have its city operations powered by 100 percent renewable energy, and then in September 2015 declares that it will divest its pension funds from coal.
  • The follow-on public commitments during 2014 and 2015 by nearly 90 cities to adopt at least an 80 percent by 2050 GHG reduction target.
  • 400,000 join the People's Climate March through the streets of New York City on the eve of the United Nations Climate Summit in September 2014.
  • The September 2014 divestment announcement by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and others - with a combined total of more than $50 billion of assets under management - that they will divest from fossil fuels.
  • The United Nations Secretary General's Climate Summit in New York in September 2014, which kicks off the formal process of government commitment making for Paris.
  • The launch of the We Mean Business Coalition in September 2014 to push for climate action. By the time the Paris COP begins, the coalition has grown to include 363 companies with revenues of $7.5 trillion and 177 investors with $19.2 trillion under management. WMB's commitments and calls to action prove to be an important driver of international momentum.
  • The New York Declaration on Forests, supported by more than 150 partners, including 37 government, 20 subnational governments, 53 companies, 16 indigenous peoples groups, and 63 civil society groups, aims to halve the loss of natural forests globally by 2020, end it by 2030, and restore hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land.
  • The October 2014 European Union commitment to reduce emissions 40 percent by 2030.
  • The historic November 2014 U.S.-China agreement to curb climate emissions in both nations and to support a comprehensive global agreement in Paris. President Obama pledges the U.S. will cut its emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025, and President Xi committs that China will peak its emissions no later than 2030 and produce 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the same date.
  • The January 2015 announcement of U.S.-India cooperation on climate action, including an agreement to tackle emissions from HFC's, a refrigerant, and a powerful greenhouse gas that is 1,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
  • India's INDC bold pledge in October 2015 to deploy 275 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022, a five-fold increase from previous targets.
  • The November 2015 Dubai Pathway decision by world nations to phase down production and use of HFC's using the Montreal Protocol. A final agreement is expected in 2016.
  • Growing international consensus throughout the 2013-2015 period around Carbon Tracker's landmark Unburnable Carbon report, which concludes that the world must keep 80 percent of known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground to avoid more than 2 degrees celcius of planetary warming.
  • The subsequent warning, issued from the Bank of England (noted earlier), that stranded carbon will become a material risk to investors.
  • Decisions by an array of banks beginning with Deutsche Bank in May 2014 and followed by other international banks and the National Bank of Australia in September 2015 to deny financing for the massive proposed Adani coal export terminal in Queensland. Without the terminal, Australia's prodigious Galilee Basin coal deposits have to stay in the ground.
  • Six leading oil and gas companies, including Shell, BP, Eni, Total, BG, and Statoil, call on governments in May 2015 to put in place a carbon pricing system to spur the right kinds of clean energy investment.
  • Shell's decision in September 2015 to back away from plans to drill for oil in the Arctic, and the Obama Administration's follow-on decision in October to deny future oil drilling leases in the Arctic.
  • The Obama Administration's November 2015 rejection of the long contested permit for the Keystone pipeline.
  • The pre-Paris November decision by the Canadian province of Alberta, with support from oil companies and environmentalists, to develop a provincial climate action plan, to cap emissions from oil sands development in 2020, and to do its part in Canada's effort to achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.
  • Serial decisions by South Australia, California, Europe, and New York State between September 2014 and November 2015 to adopt 50 percent renewable energy targets.
  • The launch in April 2015 of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, to support cities planning transformative low carbon planning strategies.
  • Announcements by leading cities, including Copenhagen, Sydney, and San Jose, San Francisco, Munich, Vancouver and others, pledging to become 100 percent renewable.
  • REN21 confirms in mid-2015 that 2014 is the biggest year yet for renewable energy. Among its findings are that by the end of 2014, renewables comprise 27 percent of the world's power generating capacity and 60 percent of all new energy infrastructure added during 2014; that total investment in renewable energy increased from $45 billion in 2004 to nearly $300 billion in 2014; that solar PV capacity grew from 2.6 GW in 2004 to 177 GW in 2014; solar hot water systems grew from 86 GW to 406 GW; total wind capacity grew from 48 GW to 370 GW over the same period; and that the number of countries with renewables policies had increased from 48 in 2004 to 164 in 2014.
  • Reporting by the Sierra Club in June 2015 that of the 523 coal plants operating in the U.S. in 2009, more than 200 - or 40 percent - have shut down.
  • The Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change concludes in June 2015 that climate change is a medical emergency requiring an emergency response, and recommends phasing out coal from the global energy mix.
  • Goldman Sachs' report in September 2015 that global coal use peaked in 2013.
  • The May 2015 release by Pope Francis of his Encyclical on climate change and environment - Laudato Si - which asks for urgent action on climate to protect our common home, the poor and the vulnerable.
  • Pope Francis in two high profile speeches to leaders at the United Nations in New York, and before the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. in late September 2015, calls for strong action on climate change.
  • The October 2015 appeal to political leaders by Cardinals, Patriarchs and all worldwide Bishops for "a fair, legally binding and truly transformational climate agreement" in Paris.
  • Desmond Tutu's related multi-religious Faiths for Earth campaign calls for a hundred percent renewable energy by 2050.
  • In late October 2015, fifty-two Chinese and international architecture and planning firms adopt the China Accord, ¬a pledge to plan and design cities, towns, developments, and buildings in China to low carbon or carbon neutral standards.
  • 311 colleges and universities in the U.S. representing over 4 million students join the November 2015 American Campuses Act on Climate pledge to amplify concern for urgent action on climate change and to encourage a strong global agreement in Paris.
  • 48 highly regarded American defense and security leaders release a November 2015 letter demanding the U.S. continue to lead on climate change.
  • Since Paris. A quick scan of headlines since the successful conclusion of the Paris climate talks reveals that the momentum continues:
  • The U.S. Congress reauthorizes critically important renewable energy tax credits, a step that Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates will spur an additional $73 billion in investments and nearly 40 gigawatts of new wind and solar projects by 2020.
  • AWEA reports that wind power installations in the U.S. have reached 80 gigawatts.
  • China announces it will install 150-200 gigawatts of solar by 2020, potentially quadrupling its current target, and that it is raising its 2020 goal for new wind power installations to 250 gigawatts.
  • Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that the world added 55 gigawatts of new solar and nearly 60 gigawatts of new wind in 2015. China, it says, was responsible for 16 GW of the new solar and 25 GW of the new wind.
  • South Australia reports that it will exceed its 50 percent renewable energy target by 2016, a decade faster than planned. In a nation where coal still generates 90 percent of electricity, the state of South Australia is about to shutter its last coal fired power plant and believes it can be 100 percent renewable in two decades.
  • 30 German businesses call for an overhaul of German and EU climate and energy policy to increase energy efficiency and transportation targets and to revamp the EU's emissions trading system to achieve a 95 percent cut in electricity emissions by 2050.
  • Researchers in Finland calculate that Russia and nine Central Asian nations can become a highly energy-competitive region by getting all of their electricity from renewable sources within the next 15 years.
  • San Diego adopts a legally binding goal to procure 100 percent renewable energy community wide by 2035.
  • The NY Renews Campaign launches an effort to make New York State's ambitious climate commitments legally enforceable.
  • The U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, and a dozen individual cities join a legal motion to support the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan.

With so many Mayors, Governors, Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEO's, faith leaders, security experts, bankers, investors, health professionals, endowment managers, architects, energy executives and technologists expressing urgency and taking ambitious action, we almost certainly have achieved the tipping point towards inevitability.
No doubt there will be enormous pushback from powerful status quo industries like oil, gas and coal, but Laurence Tubiana's hope for a conclusion of inevitability does appear reasonable now. In marked contrast to Copenhagen, which signaled confusion, Paris has elicited almost uniformly favorable coverage, and a growing sense that the world is now on a path to the post-fossil fuel era.
The next related question is whether we can we bend the curve of emissions down fast enough.
Scientists are adamant that we have very little time, and that global peaking of GHG emissions needs to happen by 2020 if we are to have a chance of reaching the 1.5 degree celcius target referenced in the Paris Accord.
Scanning the list of actions and announcements noted above, it is breathtaking how much has been accomplished since 2013. Given all the momentum, it now seems plausible to get to a net zero future by mid-century, especially in the U.S., Europe and China, although additional attention must now be paid to assuring low carbon economic growth in the large emerging economies like India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Iran, Nigeria, and South Africa.
In any kind of normal situation, activists, policymakers and business leaders would be allowed to settle into some form of well-deserved relief. What makes the current situation so challenging is that after a holiday break, we must now get back up and push more. The Road needs to continue beyond Paris.
Momentum and progress will have to continue to build. If we sit on our laurels, we will have lost the fight.
Reaching the inevitable post fossil free era in time will require enormous amounts of focus, creativity, diplomacy, hard work, and staying power. To get there each of the initiatives announced over the past three years has to be implemented. All of the groups that have come together to rally action have to stick together and grow larger. Capital markets, signal in hand, must perform as markets can. Enabling policies that price carbon; support zero carbon buildings, transportation and electricity; and enable lower carbon land use have to become the norm. Donors of all stripes have to stay engaged. Governments at every level and leaders from every sector have to persist.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and not of his employer. 

Oct 4, 2015

by Abigail Rome, Threshold Foundation

“Fund the Fighters!” That’s the rallying call from the stars. Not the celestial stars, but from well-known artists such as Mark Ruffalo and Naomi Klein. They represented just a couple of the big names at the Environmental Grantmakers Association conference in Mohonk, NY in late September. With a range of themes, including social movement building; increasing diversity in environmental organizations and foundations; keeping fossil fuels in the ground; sustainable agriculture; and addressing global issues on international and local levels, I found myself pretty starry-eyed much of the time.

As a first-time, somewhat-dazed conferee, I decided it would be helpful to share some of the ideas and trends in environmental, and other, philanthropy with other members of the Threshold Foundation who could not attend. Here then, are bits of wisdom, experience and inspiration, fresh from the mouths of elders in environmental foundation boardrooms AND from youth of all colors on the front lines of climate change.

Movement Building:

Many big environmental battles (such as the ban on fracking in NY or Shell pulling out of the Arctic) are won because large and diverse groups of peoples have become active advocates for a cause, writing letters, signing petitions, making phone calls, marching on the streets, setting up blockades, etc. They’ve organized and come together to build a movement, to fight for their rights and those of others.

As funders, we can build movements by funding people, and giving support for training, organizing, etc. While ad hoc movements may wax and wane depending on current events and needs, once they are formed they build social capital that can be transferred to other causes when the need arises. Sometimes the issues are primarily (or seemingly) environmental while other times they’re social or economic. It doesn’t really matter which because the challenges posed are interconnected. It all boils down to the question of injustice. As funders of movement building, we increase the numbers and types of voices that are heard and we help them reach decision-makers.

Understanding the Links between Environmental, Social and Economic Issues:

“When did it become okay to leave your children to fight for basic human rights?” asks Crystal Lameman, a Beaver Lake Kree First Nations activist. She’s referring to the fact that in order to secure basic land rights (and prevent the oil shale industry from despoiling her home and our climate), her people need to sacrifice the welfare of their families and their traditions. It becomes clear that environmental concerns are closely linked to social and economic ones. And funders need to realize that.

Following Crystal, a plenary entitled “I Never Could Have Dreamed That: Looking Back to Look Forward” examined other historic and current movements for change, and discussed ways to apply lessons learned to the modern-day environmental movement. Panelists made the point that African Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and that Democrats support protection of the environment. We came away with the understanding that we need to think bigger picture and more strategically, to be willing to support causes that may not look environmental but that can have profound influences on how our society impacts nature and natural systems.

Empowering the Grassroots:

“We don’t need a big name leader or spokesperson. We’re all right here,” says Alicia Garza, founder of Black Lives Matter, referring to the importance of everyday people and their power to effect change when given voice. She and other speakers referred to the Civil Rights movement as just one example of how people power succeeded in improving lives and creating policies for the good of all. (That’s not say that there’s not more work to do….) Her recommendation to funders is that grassroots groups need to be supported for a sustained period of time because it takes years to build strength and gain influence.

She suggests that donors fund naturally evolving coalitions, and that they don’t force relationships between unlikely groups. Strong alliances form organically, and the best leaders come from the populations that are experiencing trauma. It is the funders’ responsibility to seek out and build the capacity of emerging grassroots champions.

Building Diverse Organizations:

Diversity was writ large at the EGA meeting this year. Never have I been at an environmental meeting with so many people of color, of different ages, cultural backgrounds, etc. Speakers talked of how African Americans and Latinos are deeply committed to the environment, and how they want to be “co-conspirators” in making change. Many are already involved in the climate justice movement, and seek to exchange ideas and strategies to build effective, community-oriented narratives. The call to funders is to support relationship building and to give evolving activist groups time and space to create alliances and gain strength.

I was particularly struck by the need for youth to increase diversity among foundation boards, staff and grantees. One panel consisted of three 20-somethings of Latino, Asian and African American origin – chosen because they are especially bright and articulate. The millennial generation has grown up with a different worldview than baby boomers, most of whom dominate the funding community. They communicate via social media, live more comfortably in a diverse America, challenge prevailing ideas about economic growth over all else, etc. And, they are becoming increasingly influential and their ideas increasingly relevant. As funders, we need to include them and help empower them to help build a sustainable world. And, we need to learn from them how to communicate to their generation and the youth that follow.

Relationship Building:

“Trust the relationships.” Now there was a suggestion that’s ingrained into Threshold's DNA. But the speaker wasn't someone who's attended our meetings. She is Adrienne Maree Brown, science fiction writer, coach and facilitator. She talks about everyone being interconnected, about how organizers need to listen to the voices on the ground, and about the need for funders to develop intimate relationships with their grantees. Relationship building takes time. Collective impact takes time. Funders need to think more long term, and give sustained support that addresses the real needs of the people.

This last message was brilliantly emphasized by Berta Caceres, a Honduran activist and indigenous movement-builder, who calls on the funding community to truly understand the roots of their problems, and to help them fight transnational dictatorships and capitalism. An African American colleague on her panel makes a similar point about understanding the needs of the people we fund by saying, “It’s not the polar bear that’s important, it’s the price of milk.” Well said.

At EGA, there wasn’t much milk, nor were there polar bears tiptoeing between icebergs on Lake Mohonk. Instead, there was reflection, celebration, exuberant dancing, and plenty of wise advice for all us who use our resources to create a healthy, diverse and just world.

Aug 12, 2015

By Antoine Lucic, EGA Intern

For a long time, climatic variations have shaped and influenced civilizations across the world. While traditional examples have often relied on the distant fall of the Mayan Empire to demonstrate the link between environmental stresses and political turmoil, a growing number of studies on contemporary cases demonstrate an ever stronger link within the climate security nexus.

Research conducted by the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) suggests that both Syria and Egypt have experienced direct, indirect and multiplier effects of climate change on their food, water and energy supplies. Despite certain challenges within the field when it comes to advancing unprecedented connections, the field has witnessed an increasing number of research centers, NGOs and initiatives. As time gives place to more evidence, resources must follow the assessments made by the research community. As it stands with other dimensions around climate change, non-action will cost much more, and in this case, involve much larger risks in terms of national, international and geopolitical security across the world.

Over 70 percent of the world’s governments have explicitly acknowledged climate change as a national security concern. A recent report commissioned by the UK Foreign Office, claimed that the power dynamics around climate change should be similarly assessed as the ones of nuclear proliferation. The Pew Research Center recently published a study placing Climate Change along ISIS and cyber criminality as the world top security threats. The US Department of Defense has weighed in the argument with another report to Congress affirming that climate change is a security risk “because it degrades living conditions, human security and the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations.” Whether behind closed doors, or under different appellations (Energy and Security, or Disaster and Conflict), discussions around climate and security are happening across sectors.

Within the philanthropic community, collaborations between two affinity groups, the Environmental Grantmakers Association and the Peace and Security Funders Group exemplifies the growing interest of big donors in these subtle but very pertinent connections. Such discussions were highlighted by the importance of the coordination of efforts as well as the additional funding towards research. 

While the media coverage remains limited on the discussion happening, we are constantly reminded of the effects of climate change. This builds on the idea that climate change is not only a problem of future generations but is and will increasingly be one of the present. Today, certain geographic regions line up directly with zones of higher instability and effects can be witnessed across the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia. Not only will climate change directly affect these zones through climatic events, indirect effects will be amplified by the local population’s inability to cope with them. This will have devastating effect in which the very core of governmental structure, social services and basic needs of these nations and neighboring ones, will be at risk. 

From a growing population, rising demands for water, food and social service, to threats of both flooding and desertification, Egypt is typical example of a developing country highly vulnerable to climate change. In 2010, a drought in Russia had devastating effects on Egyptian wheat reserves, in part sparking the Arab Spring. On another front, the Los Angeles Times recently published a piece divulging the historical irony of drought-devastated Mali in transforming cattle-farmers into Jihadists. “To understand why cowboys would go to war, simply look at the dried-up land around them”.

The instability and threat caused by the intensification of climate change on populations and regions is forcing people to seek a better living across borders. Figures are exploding the roofs in terms of migrants fleeing the global south to the global north, from coastal lands to inner regions. From island nations in Micronesia, to the case of Bangladesh, climate refugees are increasingly facing hostility from isolationist foreign policies.

Both the urgency and multi-dimensional aspects of climate change have called upon the attention of global leaders around the world. From summits hosted at the Vatican to growing political pressure in the world’s largest emitting countries, the interdependencies that characterize our globalized world puts at risk even the most stable regions, ironically imitating the instability driven from natural feedback loops. This shift of language in which climate change is measured in terms of national security, might very well be the extra stake that animates the fast approaching COP21 discussions planned at the end of the year.

Jul 20, 2015

By Mariella Puerto, Senior Program Officer, Climate at the Barr Foundation. This article first appeared on the Barr Foundation's Blog.

A $1.3 billion boost to their economies. 14,000 new jobs. $460 million in savings from lower electricity and heating bills. According to a new report by The Analysis Group, an economic research firm, these are among the benefits enjoyed by the nine Northeast states that participated in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) from 2012-2014.

RGGI is the first market-based regulatory program in the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Participating states collectively set a cap for carbon emissions allowed from the power sector, and sell these through auctions. Proceeds are then invested in a variety of ways – determined by each state – and typically include energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. Since the program’s inception, it has contributed to a decrease of 33% in carbon emissions. The infographic below features the key elements and impacts of the program through 2014.

The report also found that RGGI has helped keep more dollars circulating in the local economy, as the amount of money sent outside the region to pay for imported energy has dropped. RGGI reduced dollars flowing out of state to pay for fossil fuels imported from outside the region by over $1.27 billion, from 2012-2014. Meanwhile, the states’ use of RGGI auction proceeds has boosted the purchase of goods and services in the regional economy, for everything from solar panels and insulation to engineering services for energy audits to labor for efficiency retrofits.

Barr joined a diverse group of funders to support this report, including the Merck Family Fund, Energy Foundation, The Thomas W. Haas Foundation at the NH Charitable Foundation, Sandy Buck, Fritz and Susan Onion, Seal Bay Fund, Anna Marie and John Thron, Peter Lamb, and the Orchard Foundation. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed its Clean Power Plan, which aims to limit carbon emissions from power plants. As states across the country consider how best to respond, this new report makes it clear RGGI is worth a look, and that it is possible to meet emissions goals in ways that also strengthen local economies.

Learn more about the report and impact of the RGGI program by reading recent press coverage:

Jun 16, 2015

By Ashley Seyfried, EGA Intern

Two years ago, Community Food Funders held a panel discussion on risk and resiliency preparedness after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Last week, North Star Fund hosted a follow up discussion to see what has changed, and what still needs to be put into action.

Since 2012, there has been increased communication between vital groups, and many plans have been made that shed light on what needs to be addressed in the face of climate change. Despite this good news, many new guidelines still need to be put in place, especially before the upcoming hurricane season, as well as in the next few years to prepare for the effects of how quickly our climate is changing. 

In the aftermath of hurricanes Irene and Sandy, food accessibility became a devastating issue. New York City has enough food to provide for its citizens for only 48 hours—after a hurricane, that is no time at all. In 2012, after Hurricane Sandy, the City was in a state of emergency for weeks with many citizens without access to necessary food, water, and supplies. With climate change worsening the effects of hurricanes and tropical storms as well as increasing the frequency of these disasters, the panel stressed that we need to be increasingly prepared with food and supplies by altering the way our food system operates currently. 

The panel kicked off with Jeff Thomas—who oversaw disaster recovery in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina—defining key terms and outlining where we need to improve within the food community. We need to become more resilient, and we need to collaborate to address the problem of resiliency. Not only do the extreme weather events of climate change pose a substantial problem, but the subtle changes in weather/climate patterns effect food production tremendously; a small frost after a warm streak in the spring can result in many farmers’ crops dying. When we think of farming, we usually only think of the ground and the land, but in the face of storms and overfishing, fisheries need to be included in the discussion as well. Natural disasters hit the coast first, where the majority of fisheries are, and in planning for the future, we need to focus more on fisheries, as they provide for 1.2 billion people every day. 

Not only do we need to become more resilient, but we also need to change the narrative around food to be more inclusive. Instead of asking who the next generation of farmers will be, we need to ask where the Latino, Black, and other minority farmers fit in. In the face of a disaster, lower Manhattan is first to be brought back to its feet, while most of the poor neighborhoods of the Bronx and Harlem are left suffering a lot longer. In order to be more prepared for the next hurricane, we need to make sure we do not have communities where people live their lives in extreme situations where they never have enough food, and we need to identify the people that are disabled, low income, homeless, or need more help than others, and make sure to more quickly provide food and supplies for them during natural disasters.

New York City’s infrastructure, including the transportation and storage of our food supplies, need to be altered as well. In order to make food more readily available, New York City distribution centers need to be decentralized and dispersed into mini hubs around the City. Brooklyn currently has zero hubs, and in a natural disaster where transportation is often cut off, many people will face food shortages. Additionally, New York City needs to be able to map out who is on the ground, where transportation units are and where they are going, to be better prepared when a disaster does hit. The panel insisted that community kitchens and housing areas for destroyed homes need to be identified well before a disaster hits so that when one does occur, we can utilize the space for communities.

Many advancements still need to be enacted for not only New York City, but for the rest of the world to be prepared for climate change. In order to do this, the panel stressed that organizations need to focus on both planning and funding. There also needs to be more coordination between philanthropists, government, and community organizations. By working together, we can make a concrete plan for concrete change, and from there, we can start implementing these changes to be better prepared. 

With climate change comes a change in how our world operates. Our food supply needs to be readily prepared so that citizens have access to this necessity not only during extreme weather events, but in everyday life.

Jan 8, 2015

This post is by Shorey Myers, Program Manager for the Jenifer Altman Foundation. This article first appeared on HEFN's Blog.

You may have heard post-election predictions that trade agreements are one of the only topics on which the President and the Republicans think they can find common ground. In fact, the proposed trade deals are about a lot more than “trade,” and they would be a disaster for public health and the environment.

A coalition of foundations are working with advocates monitoring this fast-moving train and defending the public interest from deals heading down the wrong track. We welcome other partners in learning & action! Our first of a series of informational calls for funders will take place January 21, 2015; contact me for more information.

Here’s a brief rundown of concerns about these trade deals – and what can be done.

  • No transparency or public accountability. Two trade deals are being negotiated in parallel with an unprecedented level of secrecy and no mechanism for public input. One is being negotiated between the US and the European Union (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a.k.a. TTIP or TAFTA) and the other between the US and Pacific Rim nations (Trans-Pacific Partnership, a.k.a TPP). Who has access to these negotiations? Only three negotiators per nation and over 600 corporate ‘trade advisors’. The only method by which the public and NGOs have been able to assess the potential damage of the trade deals have been through multiple leaks.
  • Corporate legal overreach. One provision of the proposed deals (Investor State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS) would expand the ability of multinational corporations to sue nations in private courts for claimed ‘loss of future profits’ due to regulatory action, including policies intended to protect the health, safety, environment, labor or democratic rights of the citizens. Nations – and taxpayers -- are frequently the losers in these costly court battles, even if the case is dismissed. Read real cases of corporations winning millions of dollars from nations for undermining investors’ “expected future profits.” Expanding ISDS would interfere with current environmental and health regulations and discourage new legislation.
  • Regulations “harmonized” downward or nullified. A “Regulatory Cooperation” chapter of the proposed trade deals seeks to set up an official body, comprised of regulators and advised by industry, which would ‘harmonize’ national regulations that differ in approach, likely to the lowest possible level. The harmonized policies approved by this official body could set a ceiling on the level of protection that is allowable in legislation and abrogate regulation, from the local to the federal level, that exceeds the harmonized standard. Chemical regulations, particularly the European Union (EU) REACH chemicals policies and progressive US State chemical regulations, are prime targets of this provision; chemical manufacturers are projected to be the second biggest financial beneficiaries of the lowered standards. Pilot projects addressing prioritization and classification of chemicals based on this chapter are already underway.
  • From “buy local” to “buy multinational.” A major EU objective is to force the US to open public procurement programs to transatlantic competitors. Public procurement programs allow criteria such as environmental sustainability or living wages to be included in broader economic programs. Currently, such programs support local farmers and locally sourced renewable energy, construction and supplies, benefiting local producers, businesses, workers and consumers, including school and hospital systems. Opening these contracts to multinational corporations could help drive local producers out of the market and inhibit the growth of small-scale sustainable food systems. In a 2014 EU-Canada trade deal the EU achieved ‘unconditional access’ to procurement contracts at all levels of Canadian government, a result the EU would like to replicate in the EU-US agreement.
  • More gas exports, less renewable energy. Renewable and clean energy policies are in danger of roll-back as a result of trade deal provisions. Measures intended to support energy efficiency, including labeling standards, fuel efficiency standards, and emission standards for cars, appliances and airlines, as well as tax credits for climate-friendly fuels may all be eliminated through the trade deals. Additionally, the US Department of Energy may lose the authority to determine whether natural gas exports to Europe are in the public interest. This could green-light a significant increase in drilling and open an LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) superhighway to the world’s largest importer of natural gas. The ISDS provision mentioned above is another avenue by which petrochemical corporations hope to force open the market.

Solution Strategy: Stop Fast Track. This threat to democracy and government in the public interest is made possible in the US by a procedure known as “Fast Track.” Fast Track is designed to allow the executive branch to accelerate trade agreements and insulate them from scrutiny, “fast tracking” them through Congress with severely limited debate, allowing no amendments and only a straight up or down vote.

While Congress has constitutional authority over international trade, Fast Track shifts that authority to the executive branch, virtually ensuing that the public and Congress will have no real voice in trade deals. The time has come to stop Fast Track, to bring some sunlight into an otherwise deeply opaque process, and returning basic democratic process to a critical area of public policy.

Shorey Myers is Program Manager for the Jenifer Altman Foundation. Shorey has been with the Foundation since 2010. Her work over the past decade includes a strong focus on global environmental health and justice issues, as well as philanthropic support of critical social services. Her email address is

Dec 16, 2014

By Joshua Cohen, Member Services Program Manager, EGA

In November, EGA continued its journey of meeting in places that matter by bringing funders to San Juan and Vieques as part of a co-hosted learning tour focused on equity and environmental sustainability in Puerto Rico. Collaborating with the Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG), the trip highlighted community-based strategies for resilience focused on social, economic and environmental justice. Throughout the two day tour of the main island, we heard from activists and community members from three distinct areas, all spearheading innovative solutions to address local challenges. With a population of 3.6 million, inequity is a significant social issue in P.R.; the poverty rate is 45.4% (using the U.S. Federal definition) and the official unemployment rate is 13.5%. Despite these staggering numbers, P.R. is a gap area for funding due to its geographic and political status (territory vs. state); national funders tend to overlook them as non-U.S. whereas international funders consider them domestic. This status – as neither here nor there – has left them often ignored and without much philanthropic support. I found this small island to be ripe with opportunity. The Open Society Foundation has listed them as a priority place and on December 3rd the Rockefeller Foundation announced that San Juan was included in their next round of resilient cities.

Our learning tour represented diverse foundations (with roughly 40 funders who were split 50% local and 50% non-local, many from the New York area) focused on a variety of issue areas (e.g. equity, health, climate, etc.). A few funders remarked that they hadn’t met many of the attendees before, evidence that our collaboration with NFG could really lead to future cross-cutting funding strategies among often separate and distinct funding areas.

We began the tour in an art deco room in the historic Banco Popular building in Old San Juan overlooking the harbor, with a view of a vibrant port industry. This building, completed in 1939, was the first high rise in the region with an elevator. After an enlightening and sobering panel discussion on demographics, inequity and the changing economy of the island, we departed for nearby Caguas to visit the first public housing project on the island and hear from José Gautier Benítez and Las Gladiolas community members about battles over displacement and subsequent efforts around housing reform.

These efforts have led to successful outcomes that include a microbusiness incubator called EcoRecursos Comunitarios and a recycling business called EcoReciclaje, Inc., employing local residents. Other organizations we heard from included Las Gladiolas Vive and the Liga de Cooperativas de Puerto Rico. It was inspiring to witness the energy and dedication of many strong women community leaders along this tour, and to see such diverse funders – some focused on equity and civic participation, others on environmental justice – really engage with the content and local activists.

We then boarded the bus for Casa Pueblo in the central mountain village of Adjuntas. This family-run community center grew out of the local environmental movement in the 1960s in response to proposed copper mining. Today, Casa Pueblo continues to rail against local development around a gas pipeline that would have crossed the region, while offering several local programs. They help preserve nearby Bosque del Pueblo (People’s Forest), a model forest that is community-managed, while running education programs for local youth focused on music, arts, science and the environment. Shade-grown coffee is roasted on a recently-acquired roaster and a small shop sells the coffee, along with local goods and books on native flora and fauna and Puerto Rican cuisine, to support the center’s work. We were excited to discover that the founding director, Alexis Massol-Gonzalez, was a 2002 Goldman Prize recipient.

The next day the tour visited the Caño Martín Peña, a canal in the heart of San Juan surrounded by homes, many lacking basic sanitation infrastructure and subject to regular flooding, ill health (read this recent health impact study) and transportation challenges. The eight neighborhoods (known as the G-8) along this San Juan Bay Estuary system have rallied in recent years through the ENLACE Project to develop an innovative community land trust to address the lack of land titling through collective ownership. The U.S. EPA, Region 2, has been active in supporting these impressive efforts, along with a few philanthropic foundations who participated on this tour, though much is still needed to support these local initiatives.

I then headed to Vieques, an island-municipality about eight miles to the east of the P.R. mainland, to attend a Vieques Sustainability Task Force meeting. With a current population of around 14,000, it has a challenging past as a former U.S. Navy bombing and testing ground. When the Navy withdrew in 2003, much of the island was designated as a National Wildlife Refuge. From sea turtle nesting grounds (including Hawksbills, Leatherbacks, and Green Sea Turtles) to Puerto Mosquito, one of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world (which recently experienced a blackout due to an usual dry period), to migratory birds, Vieques is critically important as a conservation frontier in the region.

At the task force meeting, community members came to express their concerns and participate in working groups focused on such areas as community-based development and natural resource management, public safety and health, private sector opportunities, Superfund clean-up efforts and sustainable infrastructure. I learned that in 2000, 72.2% of those on Vieques lived below the Federal Poverty Standards (much higher than the already high 45.4% for P.R. as a whole), and that the island has a higher cost of living than the mainland, as well as a greater dependency on welfare; improvement in these areas has been slower than many would like to see. There is currently no organized agriculture on Vieques and potable water comes via pipeline under the sea, making local residents heavily reliant on outside infrastructure and support. It was a heated conversation and was very emotional for many in the room.

Through community efforts, support from the U.S. EPA and from the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico (Stuart Delery, the recently appointed Department of Justice Co-Chair of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico was in attendance), island infrastructure challenges and local voices are being heard. At the meeting they announced funding for a solar hot water heater installation program for 100 homes on the island, coordinated by Energy Affairs in P.R. Clean up continues through the Superfund Program with unexploded munitions and contamination of part of the island. Tourism continues to be a significant revenue generator for the island, but problems with ferry service pose challenges to this each year; this same travel challenge prevents island residents from getting to affordable health care in Fajardo on the main land. Though the task force was focused initially on environmental outcomes (e.g. Navy clean-up), the community has expressed a clear need to address access to health (e.g. the island has high cancer rates). As the island is becoming a significant tourist destination (many celebrities own homes here), I found there to be a divide between local residents and visitors in access to basic services. There is a clear need for philanthropic support around environmental health programs.

To dive deeper on environmental issues, we organized an evening tour of the Puerto Mosquito bio-bay, followed by a day-long tour of Vieques. We began at the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust (VCHT), a local organization focused on preserving the local flora and fauna (they maintain a small aquarium and run the MANTA Youth Education Program) as well as cultural assets (they also host a mini-museum of historic artifacts). In addition to seeing the incredible natural beauty of the island’s mangrove lagoons and beaches, we visited the shell of an old school (acquired to develop into an environmental education center with boarding for visiting scientists), 62 million year old rocks (beside which the oldest human skeleton was found in the Caribbean) and a 300-400 year-old Ceiba tree.

Being somewhat familiar with P.R. through visiting friends who live in San Juan, my experience was mostly focused on the biodiversity and natural beauty of the region. On this tour, however, I was really able to witness on the ground activism in action and met many community leaders fighting for equity and community resilience on this enchanted island. I see great opportunity, and need, to support these considerable efforts in community resilience, civic participation and environmental justice and education.