As a kid growing up in Louisiana, one of the first times I ever learned about climate change was in science class, when we were taught that we were slowly sinking into the sea. Our teachers explained this coastal land loss to us in maybe the most American unit possible: the football field. The state was losing a football field’s worth of land every hour.

Coastal Louisiana is disappearing for several reasons, largely because of the system of levees and flood walls built to harness the Mississippi river that prevent it from depositing new sediment. Another reason, as our teachers would briefly mention, is the sea level rise brought on by climate change.

Back then, this threat seemed distant. Today, the impacts of climate change are plastered daily across the headlines. Longer droughts, stronger hurricanes, record highs and record lows. According to the most recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying.

Given this alarming reality and the implications for communities across the globe, philanthropy’s actions to date have been startlingly deficient. As has been documented by the ClimateWorks Foundation, total philanthropic giving by foundations and individuals focused on climate change mitigation represents less than two percent of total global philanthropic giving. In CEP’s new research report released today, Much Alarm, Less Action: Foundations & Climate Change, we concur that efforts by U.S. foundations to address climate change, in terms of both their grant dollars and investment practices, are relatively limited.

In this research, which was conducted with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, we examined how leaders in the philanthropic sector, both at foundations and nonprofit organizations, perceive the issue of climate change and how it will affect their work. We found that:

  1. Foundation and nonprofit leaders overwhelmingly see climate change as an urgent problem that will negatively impact the lives of the people served by their organizations, especially historically marginalized communities. While they believe the public and private sectors, in particular, are not doing enough to address climate change, they believe foundations and nonprofits could also be doing more.
  2. Despite foundation leaders’ concerns about climate change, foundation efforts to address climate change are relatively limited — in terms of grant dollars and investment practices — and are also seen as limited in effectiveness. Foundation and nonprofit leaders alike describe ample opportunity for philanthropy to engage more deeply and effectively to combat climate change.
  3. Despite their concerns about climate change, most non-climate funders tend to see this issue as outside the scope of their mission, though some have not ruled out future funding efforts to address climate change. Leaders of climate nonprofits and foundations urge these funders to consider how climate change affects their missions.

Read the full article about the window for action on climate change by Katarina Malmgren at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.