A recent report on climate justice funding finds that many foundation leaders are of two minds when it comes to the climate crisis—the crisis is “urgent” yet easily put off for another day. The survey responses make this cognitive dissonance clear.

Titled Much Alarm, Less Action: Foundations & Climate Change and authored by Naomi Orensten, Katarina Malmgren, and Maria Lopez of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, the report (based on a survey of 188 foundation leaders and 120 nonprofit leaders) shows that, on one hand, 60 percent of foundation respondents say that the climate crisis is “extremely urgent,” and another 29 percent say it is “very urgent” (8). On the other hand, when asked about expected future climate-justice funding commitments, only 18 percent plan a large increase, 26 percent plan a small increase, 15 percent plan for no change, and 40 percent are not sure (16). The good news, apparently, is that no one is planning to reduce funding. Still, these numbers belie supposed urgency. All told, the authors report that presently less than two percent of total global philanthropic giving is directed toward addressing the climate crisis (4).

Intriguingly, of the 67 foundation respondents who indicated that their institutions had made no climate justice commitments, 29 of them (43 percent) said that the climate crisis was “extremely urgent.” How many of those 29 leaders expect their foundations to begin acting on the “extremely urgent” crisis? That remains unclear.

Failures to Act

Let’s begin with a statement of the obvious: philanthropy alone will not solve the climate crisis. Advancing climate justice requires, as does most social change, pressure from social movements from below. This is why, for instance, NPQ has been running a series of articles on building a Green New Deal on the Ground.

Still, foundations could take a number of easy steps to at least move the dial a little. Yet, a surprising number of foundations, including many self-identified climate funders, have been slow to act.

Addressing Philanthropic Myopia 

The last section of the report delves into what it might take for foundations that do not currently include climate justice in their work to begin doing so. About 30 of the 67 foundation leaders surveyed (45 percent) who hail from foundations that are not currently supporting climate justice say that their foundations are amenable to making this shift.

One valuable observation from the report is that finding areas of alignment or overlap with existing foundation efforts is critical to making this shift in philanthropic practice a reality. As one respondent indicated, “I’d like help [with] mapping our existing mission to climate change” (25). Another respondent put it as follows: “Give us the language and the strategy to correlate climate change with enhancing lives for all who live in our community, and my board would probably support climate change initiatives” (25).

Read the full article about climate justice philanthropy by Steve Dubb at Nonprofit Quarterly.