Climate action and environmental justice loom large in recent public discourse. September saw the UN’s Climate Action Summit and sizeable climate action protests across the world. Philanthropy, too, has had climate and environmental justice on its collective mind. Late last month, grant makers from across the nation and around the world convened for the Environmental Grantmakers Association’s 2019 Annual Retreat. Representatives from Arabella Advisors attended, including those who worked closely on the recently-released joint memo, “How Donors Can Achieve Outsized Impact on the Environment with Non-Endowed Funds.”
The Arabella team came back from the retreat with fresh perspectives on the climate action and environmental justice movements and shared their takeaways on three top topics of discussion at the retreat, all related to the current state and future trajectory of environmental grant making.
Topic #1: Environmental Justice as Social Justice
More and more funders seem to be viewing environmental justice as directly tied to issues of democracy and equity, as many of their nonprofit and academic counterparts have advocated for years. Broadly, they acknowledge the need to break down silos and work on these issues as interwoven. Leading thinkers in democracy and economic inequality attended the EGA retreat as keynote speakers, and they stressed the importance of the intersection between government policies and environmental impact. During the retreat, multiple speakers also noted that movements advancing environmental priorities must bear in mind racial equity if they hope to effect meaningful change. They acknowledged that, in the United States and globally, those most strongly affected by climate change and pollution are and will continue to be communities of color, indigenous territories, and other under-invested communities.
Topic #2: Urgency is Overdue
In many ways, the time to act on climate change was years ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to increase and expand our efforts today. In fact, at this year’s retreat there was a broad acknowledgement of the urgency of increased action in the present. Many communities already face significant challenges of climate impacts today, and the global outlook is growing increasingly dire. If we want to succeed, and not only survive but thrive, we must move faster and immediately. That includes moving more resources quickly—even if that might mean spending down in some cases.
Topic #3: Adaptation in Addition to Mitigation
Another topic of discussion was the need to help communities the mounting effects of climate change—to support adaptation as well as mitigation. For example, speakers called upon funders to go beyond pledging year-over-year to focus on additional capacity building in areas likely to be hit by disasters and pointed to the work of organizations like the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which focuses on long-term disaster recovery. Funder affinity groups and other philanthropy-serving organizations can strengthen recovery efforts before and after the fact by connecting local funders and community groups in areas affected by natural disasters and other effects of climate change.
In all, the EGA 2019 Retreat spanned dozens of topics across its four-day run. Focus on local communities and unheard voices remained at the forefront of conversation across nearly all topics, signaling a shifting consciousness among environmental grant makers across the nation.