As we close the book on the hottest year on record, crippling drought, raging wildfires, and superstorms have made the impact of climate change on our generation all too real. This has caused climate change to return to the national conversation, evidenced by President Obama’s prominent inclusion of the climate crisis in his inaugural address and by increasing public demands for action. Donors must also heed Mother Nature’s warnings, determining how rising food and water scarcity, more frequent and severe disasters, and the accompanying strains on global health and stability will affect the causes they care about. Whether focused on the environment or not, donors need to evaluate the risk a warming world poses to their strategy.
The threats posed by climate change are already exacerbating existing problems that philanthropists care deeply about, such as:
Food scarcity: Hunger has a profound impact on a broad range of issues, from education to maternal health, and will play an increasingly important role in strategies to address these issues as food prices and scarcity increase. According to the World Food Programme, 20 percent more people will be at risk of hunger by 2050 due to the changing climate, and one in five women and children are projected to be undernourished within a decade due to climate change.
Peace and global security: Increased drought, severe storms, flooding, and food scarcity present a dire security threat, exacerbating existing tensions in volatile parts of the world, with significant implications for donors working to stem human rights abuses and promote political stability in places like North Africa and the Middle East. Studies have found that spikes in violence in these regions coincide with rising food prices due to climate change, as evidenced by violent protests in 2008 and 2011. The US defense community has taken notice, arguing that “climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security.”
Global health: According to the World Health Organization, climate change “changes the way we must look at protecting vulnerable populations.” Many of the health priorities of philanthropists, like malaria, diarrheal diseases, and dengue are highly climate sensitive and are expected to become much worse with increased rainfall and warmer temperatures. The EPA argues that climate change poses a significant risk to public health in the United States, as changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, and extreme events could enhance the spread of disease.
Donors need to assess the risk climate change poses to their strategy, and identify opportunities to engage their constituencies on how it will impact them. The following are some key questions donors need to ask:
- How will the effects of climate change alter the environment within which we work? For example, when investing in maternal health, consider which populations are at the greatest risk for increased malnutrition and changes in disease patterns.
- How can we help insulate the communities we work from these risks? For example, those investing in agricultural development and indigenous communities might consider how to better enable farmers to adapt to extreme conditions by developing crops and practices that are more resistant to drought and flooding, improve pest control, and promote soil and water conservation.
- How might we enable our constituencies to reduce their carbon emissions? Those investing in capacity-building grants for community groups might also include funds for increasing building efficiency or purchasing clean energy, which will reduce their energy costs and help drive renewable energy markets.
Donors need not venture into this work alone. They should seek opportunities to learn from and collaborate with those donors that have been actively involved on climate change. Arabella has published a guide for how environmental funders and those unaccustomed to working on the environment can successfully collaborate on issues that have broad sweeping impacts, like climate change. Most importantly—donors new to climate change need to find their own voice and communicate to their peers and constituencies about how a warming world will impact the causes they care deeply about.
Ryan Strode is an associate director at Arabella, where he works primarily with family and institutional clients to develop philanthropic strategies around climate change mitigation and adaptation, clean energy, and ecological conservation and restoration.