The time is now

Ahead of COP28, we make the case for why philanthropy needs to act on climate change.

The science is unequivocal. Climate change is happening, and we’re seeing its effects in the form of wildfires, floods, heatwaves, droughts, and famines. Yet this is only the beginning. Earth is at a tipping point, and there is a closing window of opportunity to ensure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

In December 2023, global leaders and decision makers will gather in the UAE to attend a critical COP28 UN summit. The outcomes will determine the imminent trajectory of our planet.

To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, trillions of dollars in capital need to be deployed swiftly and strategically, to the places where it will have the greatest impact. 

With its high temperatures, water shortages, and expanding deserts, the Arab region is on the frontline of climate change. Yet, to-date, few private donors from this part of the world have come forward to address the issues, perhaps not surprising, given the economic importance of hydrocarbon exports.

But with Dubai hosting COP28 later this year, and a growing appetite from impact investors to fund clean energy solutions, electric vehicles, and other tech solutions, the narrative is starting to shift. 

For the first time during a COP, there will be a two-day philanthropy and business event, as well as a number of other philanthropy-related convenings, such as the Reaching the Last Mile Forum, and RewirEd, an education summit hosted by Dubai Cares.

We hope that this spotlight on philanthropy - and the role it can play in protecting communities from the effects of climate change and helping those already suffering to adapt - will lead to significant pledges and action-orientated commitments from the region’s donors.

Now is the time for philanthropy to step up and become part of the solution to the gravest challenge of our time. 

Over the coming weeks and months, Philanthropy Age will be delving into the issues, showcasing the foundations and philanthropists already acting on climate change, examining innovative frontline solutions, and asking why more people aren’t getting involved.

“Climate change is here, it is terrifying, and it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”

António Guterres, UN secretary general

image title

The climate conflict nexus


Conflict and climate change are an ominous combination. The deleterious effects of climate change - extreme weather events, resource scarcity, environmental degradation, forced displacement - are key drivers of fragility and insecurity.  

Conflict itself often has a negative environmental footprint, whether it is the destruction of forests for fuel and territorial gain, or the pollution of farmland and water supplies when industrial and petrochemical facilities are destroyed.

And in nearly all cases, it is the most vulnerable who are left to deal with the fallout.

Across the Middle East, countries are straining under the weight of the double burden of climate and conflict.

In Iraq, the war with the so-called Islamic State group uprooted more than six million people. Today, more than a million remain displaced and of those, many are unable to return home due to extreme heat having destroyed their agricultural land and leaving them without a livelihood.

According to a survey in 2023 by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NCR), an iNGO, 60 per cent of Iraq's farmers said they cultivated less land or had to use less water due to extreme drought.

Adverse climate conditions had also impeded access and functionality of market systems, exacerbated social tensions, and increased risks of secondary displacement, NRC said.

“Iraq’s climate is changing faster than people can adapt,” says Anthony Zielicki, NRC interim Country Director in Iraq. “For the 1.2 million still displaced by conflict, and the millions who have returned home, resettled or relocated, recovery from years of conflict is being crippled by extreme drought, and undermining hard-won gains in livelihoods and income security.”

“When you put climate change on top of conflict, it only compounds the vulnerabilities,”

Clare Dalton, ICRC representative in the UAE

image title image title
Drought in places like Somalia (above) and Iraq (below) is exacerbating land tensions and leading to more displacement. Photo: IFRC / Shutterstock.

In Syria, meanwhile, more than a decade of war has left half of the country's water infrastructure out of action, which, combined with the worst drought in 70 years, has resulted in up to 40 per cent less drinking water than a decade ago.  

“Everything is interlinked and these impacts are felt in the most extreme ways by people affected by armed conflict, who already grapple with vulnerabilities and have limited resources to address new challenges,” explains Clare Dalton, head of delegation in the United Arab Emirates for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“When you put climate change on top of conflict, it only compounds the vulnerabilities,” she writes, in this piece for Philanthropy Age, as she outlines why we need for collective action to tackle the impacts of climate change in conflict-affected countries. “It is essential that vulnerable, conflict-affected communities are prioritised for climate action.”

And in Yemen, an increase in summertime rainfall led to flash floods, upending the lives of tens of thousands of people already suffering from years of conflict. These floods came after years of drought, which along with the risk of landmines, is threatening agricultural practices such as beekeeping.

Read more about the climate conflict nexus

Yemen's beekeepers pushed to the brink by conflict and climate change

Landmines and drought are threatening the ancient art of honey production in Yemen. Find out how the country's beekeepers are fighting back. Read More

We cannot afford the cost of inaction

ICRC's Clare Dalton explains we need collective action to tackle the impacts of climate change in conflict-affected countries. Read more

Bill Gates on tackling world hunger

The war in Ukraine shows that hunger can’t be solved just with humanitarian assistance alone. Bill Gates outlines why we also require investments in agriculture R&D. Read More

Nature and biodiversity

The MENA region is heating up at a rapid and alarming rate, with the latest figures showing that it is warming at nearly twice the global average. 

Unless the world stops burning fossil fuels this direction is headed only one way, with heatwaves that will not only be hotter - with predicted peaks of 56 degrees - but also longer-lasting. 

High emissions scenarios could lead to up to 80% of densely populated cities in the region experiencing heatwaves for half of the warm season. This poses significant risks to the region's nature and biodiversity, and, so it follows, to the human inhabitants too. 

The Red Sea's rich coral reefs, vital for biodiversity, are recognised as the most resilient reefs in the world. Yet they remain at serious risk of bleaching by rising sea surface temperatures that are also surpassing global averages. 

Increasing aridity can lead to desertification, resulting in a loss of fertile soil, degradation of ecosystems, and displacement of native plants and animals, potentially leading to the extinction of species unable to adapt or migrate.

And in a region that is already water-scarce, challenges such as drought and water stress could impact food security in countries heavily reliant on food imports, such as the UAE, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.


"We recognise the paramount importance of mangroves in combating climate change and supporting our coastal communities."

Mariam Al Mheriri, UAE minister of climate change and environment.

image title image title
With a tangled root system that filters and absorbs impurities before it reaches the water, and a waterlogged soil that traps carbon for millennia, mangroves are a critical net zero tool. Photos: Shutterstock.

Global warming threatens to increase the spread and volatility of many infectious diseases. Malaria No More’s Kelly Willis explains why we need to climate-proof global health systems in this piece for Philanthropy Age.

But there are green shoots. In Jordan, these divers are cleaning up the Red Sea for future generations and turning recycled plastic into livelihood opportunities for Palestinian refugees.

Meanwhile, in the UAE, ten mangrove trees will be planted for every attendee at this year's COP28 conference as part of the UAE’s ‘green lungs’ focus with the country aiming to plant 100 million mangroves by 2030.

The Ghars Al Emarat pledge was announced in September, the same month that the UAE endorsed the global Mangrove Breakthrough initiative at the Climate Ambition Summit in New York. 

Launched at COP27 in Egypt, the Mangrove Breakthrough is a collaboration between the Global Mangrove Alliance (GMA) and the UN Climate High-Level Champions. The UAE joins a growing list of governments, businesses, and non-profit organisations calling for global investment to secure the future of over 15 million hectares of mangroves by 2030. 

"We recognise the paramount importance of mangroves in combating climate change and supporting our coastal communities and we look forward to helping drive real on-the-ground change,” said Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Mariam Al Mheiri, following the official endorsement. “I invite nations around the globe to support this unique initiative.”


Read more about nature and biodiversity 

Waves of change

The Jordanian divers cleaning up the Red Sea for future generations and turning recycled plastic into livelihood opportunities for Palestinian refugees. Read more

Taking root

How the UAE is putting mangroves at the heart of its net zero ambitions. Read more

The triple planetary crisis

UNEP executive director, Inger Andersen, on why investing in nature-based solutions is key to sustainable development. Read more


Climate philanthropy

Amid the doom and gloom surrounding the looming threat of irreversible and catastrophic changes to our climate, it's important to remember that the crisis can still be averted. Avoiding the worst ravages of climate breakdown is still possible, if those with the means to help step up now.

A low-carbon economy has to be the goal, but to get there from here will require between three and six times the amounts of funding currently devoted to green investment. 

We also need support for communities to adapt to climate changes already underway, such as higher temperatures leading to wildfires, drought, and flooding (caused by melting ice caps and rising sea levels).

At the COP28 summit in Egypt, more than US$3bn worth of commitments were made by philanthropic foundations. Among those making big pledges were the Bezos Earth Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and IKEA Foundation.

This reflected a growing trend that saw global philanthropic donations towards mitigating climate change rising by 25 percent in 2021, outpacing the eight per cent increase in giving overall.

That year, more than US$3bn of private donor money was directed towards tackling climate change. This was up significantly from the $900m recorded in 2015, but still equates to less than two percent of overall philanthropy.

During 2022, total philanthropic giving by foundations and individual donors was estimated at $811bn, but still less than two percent ($7.8bn - $12.8bn) was directed towards tackling climate change.

These figures, according to the ClimateWorks’ Funding Trends Report, are essentially unchanged from 2021.

“Overall, we have a fairly disappointing picture of climate philanthropy,” explains Helen Mountford, president and CEO at ClimateWorks. "In a year that was marked by global economic challenges, record breaking temperatures, and a surge in climate related disasters, more could have been done to accelerate climate action.”

And she added: “To put it frankly, the current funding is not commensurate with the urgency of the crisis, and the scale of efforts needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”


"The current funding is not commensurate with the urgency of the crisis, and the scale of efforts needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Helen Mountford, president and CEO at ClimateWorks

image title image title
Pressure is growing on firms to decarbonise their supply chains. Photo: Shutterstock.

Foundations in North America and Europe led the way last year, accounting for a combined 63 percent of total giving to climate mitigation initiatives during 2022.

But the region that saw the biggest surge in momentum was Africa, whose nine percent of the total global climate giving represented a 38 percent increase from 2021.

By comparison, foundations in the Middle East and Central Asia region saw the least amount of philanthropic funding towards the climate crisis, according to Helene Desanlis, director of Climate Philanthropy at ClimateWorks and one of the authors of the report.

“Middle East and Central Asia is the region that we track which received the least amount of funding. Less than three million dollars per year on average has been going to that region between 2018 and 2022, and less than one million dollars in 2022 alone,” said Desanlis.

With COP28 taking place in the UAE this year, the region's philanthropists have an opportunity to step up. 

A key vehicle for this will be the Business & Philanthropy Climate Forum (BPCF), which aims to bring together leaders from philanthropy, development, and business to explore ways in which the private sector can help to achieve net-zero emissions, support climate adaptation, reverse nature loss, and restore biodiversity. 

The two-day event - taking place on the sidelines of the main climate negotiations - is hoping to attract as many as 500 executive level delegates from around the globe to discuss strategies for bringing the annual financing gap of over three trillion US dollars required to tackle the effects of climate change.

“The private sector holds the greatest promise to accelerate the accomplishment of our climate and nature global goals, which is why COP28 will ensure business and philanthropy are embraced as critical partners,” explains, Badr Jafar, an Emirati philanthropist, who also serves on the COP28 Advisory Committee.

Read more climate philanthropy

Catalysing impact

Impact investor Suzanne Biegel says it’s time for philanthropists to step up on climate finance. Read more

Green grants 

How a Saudi foundation is creating climate-friendly job opportunities for low-income youth and women living in the Kingdom. Read more

Middle East lags behind when it comes to climate philanthropy

New data shows that philanthropic funding for climate initiatives plateaued in 2022, with the Middle East and Central Asia showing the least activity. Read more

The next generation

Some of the scenarios facing future generations include food shortages, increased risk of disease, water scarcity, and polluted air. But the young people of today do not need convincing about the threat posed by climate change. 

A resounding consensus among the next generation echoes the urgency of climate action. They bear no doubt about the imminent threat of climate change. They harbour anxieties about their future, and understandable frustrations at the lack of progress.

But they also boast a fervour to engage in climate action, and to repair the damage they have played no role in creating. 

In March 2023, UN Secretary-General António Guterres revealed the young climate leaders who would form his next Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change and called on young people everywhere to ratchet up the pressure. 

It was an acknowledgment of the next generation's vital role in keeping the world’s climate goals alive, and recognition that young people are key stakeholders in the decisions taken in response to the climate crisis. Because what we do now will affect the conditions they live with in the future. 

There is much promise in the next generation’s ability to play a pivotal role in keeping the world’s climate goals alive. But to fulfil it, they’ll need unwavering support and generous resources from those in positions of power.


Read more about the next generation:

Accelerating Arab youth eco-preneurship

Aspiring Arab entrepreneurs take part in a philanthropy-backed bootcamp to find sustainable solutions for reducing domestic carbon footprints. Read more


US$3m to help communities adapt to climate change

The 2023 Zayed Sustainability Prize winners were chosen for their innovative solutions to health, food, energy, and water challenges. Read more

Waves of change

The Jordanian divers cleaning up the Red Sea for future generations and turning recycled plastic into livelihood opportunities for Palestinian refugees. Read more