Tips for funding climate change mitigation – a practical guide for funders

Posted on 02 Jun 2020

By Joshua Presser

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The world is at a climate crossroads. The science is unequivocal: we need to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees to avert a global catastrophe that will affect the world’s health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and the economy.

Grantmakers have a crucial role in funding climate change mitigation. Philanthropy can be agile and innovative, an antidote to the lack of imagination and vested interests that can sometimes beset government policy and funding decisions.

The Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) has developed a guide to funding climate action. Below is a summary of that guide, as presented by Esther Abram from AEGN and Sue Matthews, from the Mullum Trust, at the 2020 AEGN Conference.

Step 1 – Decide how much to give

How do you decide how much to give? This will depend on your organisation’s mission and high-level strategy, and your budget.

The scale of the problem is vast and even the recent announcement of Jeff Bezos’ $10 billion-endowed Bezos Earth Fund won’t turn the tide on its own. Every dollar counts.

Smaller funders, even those whose central mission isn’t related to environmental grantmaking, can still make a difference by applying a climate lens to all their grants. For example, if you are funding social housing initiatives, you might build environmental sustainability and emissions reductions into your assessment criteria.

Time is short, and this is the decade to make a difference. In her compelling call to action Ellen Dorsey implored philanthropists to “Spend More, Spend Quickly, Spend it all” to prevent a global catastrophe.

Funders have the opportunity to address climate change, with the right strategy.

Step 2 – Develop a funding strategy

Once you have decided how much to give, the next step is to develop an environmental funding strategy. This involves deciding what climate issues you’d like to address and / or choosing a ‘pathway to change’.

The AEGN has identified nine key environmental issues which can help you to make informed funding decisions. Key environmental issues include climate change, sustainable cities and communities, sustainable economy, and indigenous land and sea management.

Once you have decided what part of the climate problem to focus on, your next step is to decide on an approach to creating change. In a recent survey, the AEGN asked members to nominate organisations that they saw as particularly effective in focusing on one of the ‘Four Pathways to Change’. The Pathways to Change are a toolkit for creating change, comprising:

  1. Effective Communication – This pathway is all about winning hearts and minds and changing the discourse and discussions around climate change in the broader community. For example, the Monash Climate Change Communications Research Hub partners with television networks and uses weather presenters as climate communicators to help audiences understand the local implications of climate change.
  2. Effective Advocacy – From the grass roots through to lobbying at the highest levels of government, advocacy has been responsible for the success of many of the greatest movements for change. The Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) and Market Forces are both examples of organisations using advocacy effectively at the corporate level, mobilising shareholders and putting pressure on boards to take account of climate change when making key decisions.
  3. Lifting up Diverse Voices is about promoting voices other than “the usual suspects” and about connecting with new communities to drive change. Farmers for Climate Change is an example of an organisation working to reach out to new communities and inspire action on climate change.
  4. Collaboration - The scale of the response needed to address the climate emergency is bigger than any one funder. Collaboration is critical to maximising impact and scaling up your response. The AEGN Clearinghouse allows AEGN members to share information and collaborate on projects that require more funding than one provider can fund alone, or that, with the aid of collaboration, can be scaled up for maximum impact.

For funders looking to get involved in environmental grantmaking, Climate Change Top Picks is a resource for AEGN members which outlines organisations that have been successful at using communication, advocacy, diverse voices and collaboration to create climate change action.

This article is based on a presentation by Esther Abram, Giving Green Manager at AEGN, and Sue Matthews, Trustee. the Mullum Trust, entitled Funding Climate Action: A new guide for funders, delivered at the 2020 AEGN virtual conference. For information on AEGN membership visit