Communities around the world are facing devastating consequences from climate change, including food insecurity, loss of homes and livelihoods, violence, and mental health challenges. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change will be responsible for an additional 250,000 deaths per year from health-related issues, according to the World Health Organization. 

Indigenous people, women and girls, and communities of color are most impacted by the effects of climate change and the inequitable policies that have created problems like pollution. For example, in Washington State, 46% of toxic sites are located in communities of color

But calls for climate justice are getting louder. At the 2021 Women of the World event hosted by Global Washington, donors and community leaders came together to recognize the effects of climate change on the hardest hit parts of the globe -- low and middle income countries. And, for the next 12 months, the Women of the World leadership group will focus their attention on climate justice. The lessons below are relevant to all donors working on any issue because as Seattle-based philanthropist Martha Kongsgaard explained:

“Everything is connected. There’s no longer any such thing as solving for only one challenge.”

In developing countries, women farmers account for 45% to 90% of food production, but climate-related disasters like flooding, droughts, and forest loss threaten food supply as well as their incomes.

“The impact of the climate crisis isn’t just environmental degradation,” said Kamala Thapa, Indigeous Peoples advocate in Nepal. “It touches all aspects of life. For Indigenous women and girls, it exacerbates poverty, gender-based violence, school dropouts, loss of livelihood, and increases early marriages.”

In Micronesia, rising sea levels have displaced people in low-lying areas, and saltwater intrusion and inundation into farm systems creates food insecurity, said Madelsar Ngiraingas, Micronesia community partnerships manager at OneReef Palau

Meanwhile, extreme weather events in Suriname have led to the loss of ancestral land for Indigenous people, like the Wayana tribe, and created barriers for accessing traditional medicines.

“The impacts of climate change on Indigenous people are wide and immediate,” said President of Mulokot Foundation Jupta Itoewaki. “Indigenous communities depend intimately on ecological richness for their economic and cultural wellbeing.”

In Nepal, nearly 36% of the population is Indigenous (8.5 million people) and 19% are Indigenous women, yet they have been marginalized and left out of political and economic opportunities. 

“This crisis has revealed how much policies have failed to protect all people, especially those most vulnerable because of systemic discrimination and inequality,” Thapa said. 

Finding Solutions

Despite the immense challenges these communities are facing, they are finding solutions -- more evidence that the people who live in these areas have the knowledge and skills to determine what is best for them. 

“Women are key managers, key healthcare takers, and are involved in almost every aspect of society,” said Ngiraingas.

Itoewaki’s community has begun farming its own fish, composting, and using renewable energy.

In Nigeria, efforts are underway to reforest areas so communities can continue their agricultural practices. Clean and affordable renewable energy initiatives are also ramping up. One example is solar-drying technology to prevent food waste, said Nigerian entrepreneur Habiba Ali. But, long-term change will require people’s voices.

“Our work through the years has been to educate people more on what climate change is about, how it’s affecting them, how it’s affecting their land … and animal husbandry,” said Ali. “People don’t know they own their powers and have rights.”

Next Steps for Donors

With approximately 476 million Indigenous people around the globe, philanthropy has an opportunity to relinquish power to these communities and recognize and support Indigenous people as we all face the climate crisis.

“Partnership doesn’t mean imposing your way of thinking,” said Margarita Mora, managing director at Nia Tero. “It’s honoring and respecting and standing in solidarity.”

Listen to Communities First -- And Elevate Their Voices
Historically, Indigenous people have not been at the decision making table despite having deep relationships with their land and the solutions to adapt to or prevent further climate disasters.

“We need to be cognizant of developing equitable partnerships where communities are not only sharing their needs, [but donors are also] very genuinely listening to those needs and creating a partnership that will address those needs and make sure those impacts reach those communities,” Ngiraingas said.

Language barriers and lack of platforms also prevent Indigenous people from sharing their culture, experiences, and traditional ways of knowing. Donors can provide the resources to ensure communities are able to speak up.

Simplify Grantmaking Processes
In Suriname, funding often goes to the government instead of the communities themselves, said Itoewaki. And in Micronesia, communities compete for resources at a national, state, and regional level. 

But, philanthropic funding can also create barriers. Grantmaking practices that require a range of indicators and measurements can be “insurmountable” for Indigenous communities, said Ngiraingas. To move money faster -- and create a trusting partnership -- funders are encouraged to streamline their grantmaking expectations.

Keep Learning

The climate crisis is complicated and complex, but there are opportunities to deepen your knowledge about the issues through networks like Women of the World and other learning resources

And consider this question, posed by Mora:

“What kind of ancestors will we be?”