Highlights from “Plenary 5: Meeting the Challenge—Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation”

April 20, 2010

Moderator Steve Colwell of the Sea Change Foundation starts us out by confronting the idea that climate change is a strictly environmental issue, for donors who fund in that area. Rather, he says, outcomes on issues like food and water are closely related to what happens to the global climate. Rosamond Naylor of Stanford University shows us several disturbing slides that map what areas of the world will see dramatically hotter summers as the 21st century unfolds. These temperature rises are likely, so how do we adapt? Naylor walks us through efforts to breed crops and structure local agriculture to withstand hotter conditions. Solar-powered drip irrigation can make all the difference, for instance.

Hal Harvey, who leads the philanthropic collaborative Climate Works, says philanthropists must do three things to be effective with respect to climate change mitigation: 1) do the math; 2) focus on policy; 3) narrow their decision-making. The math, as he illustrates through a terrific series of slides showing how much carbon abatement is needed in which countries from which industries, shows what countries and industries need intervention. Once you do the math, you will find that philanthropic dollars must leverage public and business dollars; otherwise we simply cannot get enough done to stabilize carbon levels at reasonable levels. This happened when philanthropic dollars led California to adopt a tougher carbon emissions standard for cars, which was subsequently adopted nationally by the Obama administration.

How much donor giving is needed to change policy? Not as much as one might think: Harvey argues that there are ways to partner with local organizations in India, China and other countries that are pivotal to climate change mitigation that will help philanthropic dollars go much further. Harvey urges donors to direct their giving carefully based on where it will be leveraged to affect policy decisions in these critical places.

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