Philanthropy’s Big Climate Problem.

Philanthropy’s Big Climate Problem.
June 10, 2020 Hannah Stevens

In this blog, Ariadne member Priya Krishnamoorthy draws comparisons between the climate crisis and COVID-19 as intersectional issues which hit the most vulnerable hardest and require grassroots responses.

This blog is the fourth in a series which marks the release of the 2020 Ariadne Forecast, and looks at the challenges and opportunities identified by funders through the lens of the current pandemic.

To face our current climate and health crises head on, we must invest in effective and joined-up grassroots action.

Like COVID-19, climate change is global in scope but uneven in impact

The communities who are disproportionately impacted by climate change are those who don’t have the resources to adapt; that is, Indigenous, low-income Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, women, and people whose incomes are dependent on the land and sea. Climate change is a threat multiplier. It exacerbates our existing social ills; from gender violence, wealth inequalities and health disparities, to environmental injustice, poverty and homelessness. A major repercussion of climate change is that women and girls face disproportionate risks of displacement, repression, marginalisation, violence, and dispossession of land and resources.

Similarly, COVID-19 is affecting communities worldwide, but the existing structural gender inequity ensures that rural and Indigenous women are impacted more severely. Yet, their struggles continue to be unacknowledged. Our partner AFEDES in Guatemala reports that as markets close down, women farmers are losing their livelihoods, and with states forcibly imposing quarantine measures women report alarmingly higher rates of domestic abuse. In addition, state sponsored militia or death squads are exploiting the COVID-19 lockdown to kill activists, particularly women natural resource rights defenders, in Latin America. Moreover, with more people getting ill, women are tasked with the additional responsibility of being primary caregivers.

Thousand Currents is a public foundation and intermediary which partners with grassroots groups and movements working at the intersections of climate justice, economic justice, and food sovereignty in Africa, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. Our partners teach us the urgency they live with and the innovative strategies they employ to respond to climate change through frameworks of rights, equity, and justice. We have but a decade to come up with innovative and transformative solutions to repair and restore humanity’s relationship with nature. Grassroots groups and social movements are at the heart of this work, and yet receive appallingly little funding. Only 1% of philanthropic funding goes to addressing the climate crisis, and a fraction of that reaches grassroots groups and social movements.

For a long time, we have heard the same drumbeat; that climate change can only be addressed with top-down, market driven strategies like Clean Coal, Carbon Trading and Carbon Capture. Not only are these strategies not working, they are also widening the inequity gap; forcing Indigenous and BAME communities to bear the brunt of pollution and environmental degradation, and consequently, devastation from climate disasters.

A deeper look

When we look deeper, we find that our reality is entrenched in global systems of inequality; in legacies of colonial extraction, concentrations of corporate wealth and political control, and in policies based on homogenisation, racism, and xenophobia.

And, rightly, leaders in the global climate justice movement criticise such top-down market-driven mechanisms for being “rooted in the colonialism and environmental racism that is at the core of fossil fuel extraction.” Indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers, forest peoples, youth, communities of colour and women are most impacted by these schemes.

When funders focus only on top-down strategies to address global challenges, they perpetuate and amplify the very problems that got us here.

Philanthropy’s missed opportunity: Grassroots solutions to climate change

The failed leadership, economic fallout, and corporate bailouts of the COVID-19 pandemic are a wake-up call for the larger climate emergency afoot. By funding the same market driven initiatives, global carbon emissions and global pandemics will continue to rise. It’s time to march to a different drumbeat. A beat that Thousand Currents has listened to throughout its 35 years.

If we want to limit the impact of the climate crisis and pandemics like COVID-19, we must support local solutions that build resilience and dramatically cut carbon emissions. Such local solutions might include Indigenous protection of the world’s remaining forests, community governance of renewables, overhauling our agricultural system to be farmer-led and healthy food first, direct resistance to resource extraction, and Indigenous Peoples as frontline defenders. For example, FENSUAGRO in Colombia are learning new technologies to work remotely, DIVA for Equality in Fiji are running COVID awareness campaigns, and Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa are holding health department officials accountable and demanding state support to build local resilience.

As part of larger national, regional, and international grassroots-led movements, our partners are building momentum in response to the climate crisis and advancing proactive solutions that are embedded in and accountable to their communities. They protect water, fish, and port communities from corporate exploitation; enrich locally-led research to inform and engage farmers and movements in policy change towards agroecology; advocate for policies that are based on ancestral and Indigenous expertise to preserve biodiversity and mitigate climate change; and meet the immediate needs of their communities to further the feminist vision for liberation and transformation for all including Mother Earth.

The tireless work of our partners shows us that now is the time to strengthen our solidarity and support for the grassroots groups and alliances fighting for long-term and systemic change while also doing the structural work needed to prevent the impact of crises exacerbated by a pandemic like COVID-19 on all of us.

As an expression of our solidarity and our values of experimentation, innovation, and collaboration, Thousand Currents runs two initiatives which advance climate justice. As a founding member and host organisation of the CLIMA Fund, Thousand Currents works in collaboration with Global Greengrants Fund, Grassroots International and Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights to scale resources reaching grassroots climate solutions, while shifting the narratives to examine and expand collective understanding of climate change actors and protagonists. Through our Buen Vivir Fund, we are trying to help expand the reach and structure of impact investment by providing capital to grassroots climate solutions that centre social, cultural, and environmental impact alongside economic wellbeing.

The only thing that’s stopping us, is us

Over the decades, larger funders have, and continue to, predominantly support top-down strategies to address climate change. They have neglected bottom-up solutions deemed ‘too small’ or ‘too diffuse’ to support. We must step up to support grassroots solutions led by communities local to the problems they seek to solve.

People most impacted by climate crises also hold the solutions to address them. Through Thousand Currents’ long-term partnerships, I know that grassroots climate solutions – which reflect real social, cultural, geopolitical and economic realities – are not only possible, but already exist. The people whose daily lives are impacted most are taking on these social and environmental injustices and turning them into actions that inspire me and can inspire you. Together, we can cultivate a just, equitable, and inclusive philanthropic sector that centres local solutions, forms learning partnerships with grassroots groups, and reimagines wealth, wellbeing, and giving.

The only thing that’s stopping us, is us. The question we need to ask ourselves is, are we a part of the problem?

Priya Krishnamoorthy, Director of UK Partnerships at Thousand Currents.

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