Environment

The Failures of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and How Philanthropy Can Fix Them

Philanthropy needs to support climate justice, undercut the power of the fossil fuel industry, beware false solutions, and support clean energy.

I spent 10 days in Paris at COP21 helping organize, participate in, and lead some of the events and demonstrations supported by civil society participants, grassroots groups, and NGOs. On my way home, sitting in the airport, I read the final climate agreement that came out of the event. Supported by more than 190 signatory countries, the agreement is an important milestone. But it’s also something like the world taking the first step in a 12-step program, where we finally admit we have a problem. In fact, the agreement and the solutions presented at COP21 are not what grassroots philanthropists and activists hoped for. We still have a lot of work to do.

On a positive note, COP21’s significant failings clearly illuminate the ways in which philanthropists can direct resources to bolster “climate justice” in the world and actually try to limit the rise in our planet’s temperature. I believe we need to focus on four areas in particular.

1. Undercutting the power of the fossil fuel industry. COP21 completely failed to address the elephant in the room: that we must stop burning fossil fuels and switch to clean energy. This failure is rooted in the power the fossil fuel industry holds over countries around the world.

But there is a path forward to change this power structure. Most observers believe that the “mass mobilizations” over the past five years have been effective in undercutting the power of the fossil fuel industry. The clearest examples of this impact were the 400,000 people who took to the streets in April of 2014 in New York, and the hundreds of thousands in more than 20 cities who engaged in the World Climate March in the days leading up to COP21.

It has taken mass mobilizations over the last few years to push world leaders into the Paris agreement, and now it is going to take even more protests to push them to actually meet the terms of the agreement and then farther address issues the agreement ignored. Organizations such as 350.org, Friends of the Earth, the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, and Greenpeace are helping to lead these mass mobilizations. We philanthropists need to keep up our funding and support of these groups. In 2016, organizations such as 350.org and others are planning even more mass mobilizations; they need our philanthropic support.

We also must ramp up the divestment movement to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry in the United States and abroad. We must put fossil fuel industries on notice that the public will no longer tolerate climate pollution. The good news here is that over a very short time span, the divestment movement, led by the Wallace Global Fund, has increased dramatically; more than 500 institutions are now divesting more than $3.4 trillion in assets. We need to spread the word about divestment, increase funding to groups working to divest (especially on college campuses with large endowments), and increase public and media pressure on the polluting fossil-fuel corporations.

2. Getting rid of false solutions and supporting clean energy. COP21 contains false solutions such as “carbon markets.” Many large global funders are still wedded to false-solutions such as fracked gas, mega-dams, clean coal, and carbon capture. Let me be very clear about this: In the same way that a person cannot cure his or her alcoholism by switching to lite beer, we cannot cure climate change by switching to lower carbon fossil fuels. Carbon markets allow polluters to continue polluting. Fracked gas has a large CO2 output and massive methane emissions. Mega-dams have enormous methane emissions that are sometimes even worse than burning coal. Clean coal and carbon capture so far are simply fairy tales.

This means that we ought to be supporting and funding wide-scale implementation at the community level of solar energy, wind energy, and energy efficiency. Just after COP21, former UN Secretary Kofi Annan highlighted efforts funded by Green Energy Africa in Kenya that made international news when Maasai women moved solar panels on donkeys’ backs to their villages to provide a “solar revolution.” Let’s encourage and support more of these efforts.

3. Addressing climate change in developing countries. COP21 has failed to adequately address the threat climate change poses to the “undeveloped” world. The “developed world” is primarily responsible for climate change destruction by emitting massive amounts of greenhouse gases, but the “developing world” is suffering the consequences more acutely. When sea-level rise, droughts, and flooding occur in the developed world, governments have resources to quickly address the impacts; in developing countries, those same impacts can cause devastation, mass suffering, and refugee migrations that last for years and can never be undone. Philanthropists should give grants to bring greater attention to the North-South divide of climate change impacts, and fund so that developing countries can mitigate and adapt to climate change more quickly and effectively.

The good news here is that a number of global philanthropies, including Global Greengrants Fund, already focus almost exclusively on the developing world, primarily through grassroots groups and networks. In addition, major foundations such as Ford, MacArthur, and Mott have increasingly focused significant funding programs in the developing world.

4. Addressing the effect of climate change on marginalized people. COP21 also failed to address the effect of climate change on marginalized people around the world—indigenous, youth, women, poor, rural, and others who have and will continue to suffer the brunt of the chaos. Extreme weather events like hurricanes and flooding have wreaked havoc on marginalized people in the Philippines, in Haiti, as well as in New Orleans over the last decade. These events can compound for the most vulnerable people—in fact, poor women are disproportionately impacted and are 14 times more likely to die in climate change events.

As philanthropists, we need to invest more resources in these marginalized people to make sure they are not further disadvantaged as climate change worsens. One organization doing excellent work in this area is the Meso-American Alliance of People’s and Forests. This alliance has had success in securing land rights for indigenous and forest-dependent peoples, and works to increase their voice and participation in international policymaking. Sound science, together with consideration of basic human and environmental rights, make a compelling case that protecting indigenous lands and forests stops deforestation and mitigates against climate change. Philanthropists must increase support to indigenous, youth, and women’s groups that advocate and pursue such solutions to climate change. We must increase our investments to amplify their voices in the ears of policymakers across the planet, making sure that their voices are heard above the din of “First World” clamor about oil and coal and jobs and the economy.

COP21 was a historical first-step for the world community to recognize and combat climate change. In addition, its significant failings created a roadmap for how philanthropists need to fund to move the world more quickly forward along the next steps to climate justice and a cooler planet. The “Pathway Through Paris”—what we need to do to take the Paris agreement to the next level—has been set. It is time for us to set our “Philanthropy After Paris” path and move forward with purpose. 

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COMMENTS

  • Elizabeth Woodworth's avatar

    BY Elizabeth Woodworth

    ON February 4, 2016 11:28 AM

    Excellent article.  I attended COP21 as well, and made a professionally produced documentary about it.  It takes you on a trip into the heart of the COP21 venue, meetings and struggle for agreement via my citizen documentary. It also includes shortcomings identified by NGO activists, then points to immediately available interim solutions:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqchwR9eYts

  • jan brooks's avatar

    BY jan brooks

    ON February 25, 2016 06:17 PM

    Philanthropy is ignoring Environmental health impacts altogether. The rise of temperature itself results in higher rates of disease and mortality among the elderly and poor; an increase in insect born disease and other complex health issues are not on the radar screen. It is the marginalized sector of environmental funding and needs significantly more attention. Good article Terry!

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