Green promise: philanthropy makes bold new commitments to fight climate change

Foundations in the Middle East are beginning to introduce more climate-sensitive programming.

More than US$3bn worth of commitments were made by philanthropic foundations at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, as global policy makers gathered to discuss targets for tackling global warming and dealing with the effect of climate change.

The Bezos Earth Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and IKEA Foundation were among the organisations that announced new climate-related initiatives. Programmes ranged from improving agricultural techniques and boosting food security, to safeguarding forests, making transport more sustainable, and reducing reliance on fossil fuel generators.

It was philanthropy’s most prominent COP to-date and comes amid criticism of how private donors have only been committing 2% of their annual giving to the climate crisis, despite the scale of the need and the deleterious impact climate change has on other areas they fund.

Although there were no new financials pledges announced by foundations from the Arab region at COP27, a number attended the two-week event in Sharm el Sheikh, with organisations such as Community Jameel and the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development (SFSD) hosting and participating in various panels and side events. 

“Having this COP in Africa, and in particular in Egypt, gave civil society an excellent chance to participate and share their opinions, experiences, and recommendations,” said Abdelrahman Nagy, SFSD’s director of learning and strategy.

Nagy said he believed the philanthropy sector “has considerable expertise and intensive knowledge that can contribute positively to overcoming environmental challenges” and he said SFSD was now applying a “climate lens” to all its funded projects “to ensure that it tackles the consequences from different perspectives,” in addition to supporting agriculture projects and other environmental programmes.

Philanthropic pledges made during COP27 

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $1.4bn to support smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia in adapting to the current and future climate change impacts.
  • The Bezos Earth Foundation committed $50m to support the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) in growing and scaling locally-led projects.
  • The Rockefeller Foundation pledged more than $11m in grants to ten organisations scaling indigenous and regenerative agriculture practices around the world.
  • The Rockefeller Foundation, together with the Bezos Earth Fund and the US State Department jointly announced the Energy Transition Accelerator (ETA) to catalyse private capital for the clean energy transition in emerging and developing economies.
  • Ikea Foundation announced its donation of $1.2m to the Global Cities Fund to protect migrants and refugees from the negative impacts of climate change. The foundation also revealed its support of Zero Emission Generators (ZE-Gen), an initiative by the Carbon Trust and Innovate UK, in partnership with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as well as its support of the Global Methane Hub, a global hub offering grants and technical support to countries who have committed to lowering their methane emissions by at least 30 per cent by 2030 through the Global Methane Pledge.
  • A new Forests, People, Climate collaborative was established and announced, with 13 philanthropies pledging $400m towards safeguarding forests and supporting the indigenous and local communities stewarding them.
  • A group of nine philanthropies - including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Growald Climate Fund, and Sequoia Climate Foundation - jointly committed funding of $500m to advance an “equitable energy transition” in low- and middle-income countries.

"Philanthropy has a unique capacity to bring to the same table decision makers, indigenous communities, leading scientists, and entrepreneurs — and to make the conversation flow."

Alice de Moraes Amorim Vogas, project coordinator of Philanthropy for Climate, WINGS.

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The Middle East is one of the most water-starved regions in the world. Photo: Getty Images.

Alice de Moraes Amorim Vogas, project coordinator of Philanthropy for Climate, an initiative of global philanthropy network WINGS, said she had been encouraged by the amount of attention philanthropy had given to food and agriculture – including the $1.4bn pledge from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – and the beginning of discussions about how philanthropy can support climate-focused financial sector reform.

She said it was disappointing that the Philanthropy for Climate pledge had yet to receive any signatories from the Middle East, but she was hopeful some would join soon. 

“Philanthropy can be a very effective enabler of inclusive and more democratic climate action, because it has all the characteristics that allows it to play this role,” she explained.

And added: “It has a unique capacity to bring to the same table decision makers, indigenous communities, leading scientists, and entrepreneurs and make the conversation flow. This ability is crucial to help find bridging proposals that are so needed for equitable climate action.”

A report released ahead of the COP27 summit said the total annual investment requirement of developing countries would hit $2.4 trillion by 2030, with half needing to come from external financing and the rest from public and private sources in those countries.

"Unlocking substantial climate finance is the key to solving today's development challenges," said Vera Songwe, one of authors of the report, which was commissioned by the current and previous climate summit hosts, Egypt and Britain. 

"This means countries must have access to affordable, sustainable, low-cost financing from the multilateral development banks to help crowd in investments from the private sector and philanthropy,” she noted.

The Middle East and North Africa region is on the frontline of climate change. Rising temperatures and drought are already affecting water supplies and food production systems, which is exacerbating fragility in a number of countries that are already struggling with conflict, a bulging youth population, volatile oil prices, and weak governance.

COP27 was the first to be held in the Arab region. COP28 will take place in the United Arab Emirates in 2023, with the organisers expecting 140 heads of state and more than 80,000 delegates.

Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, the UAE’s special envoy for Climate Change, said the country would use its hosting of the event to “build bridges” and “advance global efforts” to support the Global South and countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. - PA