Climate Change and the Nonprofit Sector After COP21

Photograph: COP21

Photograph: COP21

At the Climate Talks in Paris this year, countries agreed to make emissions commitments and meet again in 5 years to measure progress. In addition, some more prosperous countries pledged to help poorer countries with $100 Billion in aid to help them meet these commitments. While there are no sanctions set for countries who fail to set or meet their emissions commitments, the agreement could provide some powerful incentives for change.

While in the US, there is still much political debate about climate change, a recent poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication indicated that 63% people in the US believe global warming is happening. However, in the same poll, only 48% agreed that global warming is caused by human activities. And only 41% of respondents believed that most scientists think global warming is happening (despite the fact that others studies have shown that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is occurring and is likely due to human activities).

In a landscape where nations are agreeing to cut emissions, yet the American population is still split on the role of humans in global warming, what roles can the nonprofit sector play? A recent article from Inside Philanthropy urged that philanthropy could help to build upon the historic agreement and commitment of resources at COP21. While interest in and understanding of the importance of climate change has grown in recent years, funding for environment and animal-related causes went up only 8% since 2007 according to Foundation Center data. Inside Philanthropy cites some potential reasons why philanthropists have not jumped on the issue, including an aversion to risk and tendency to be too rigid about priorities and metrics for success. In addition, many big funders may not believe in climate change. However, several big players in the field, such as the MacArthur Foundation, have called for greater effort -- from across government, the private sector, and philanthropy in order to address climate change through policy, innovation and education, and are putting their funding power behind some of these initiatives.

Through public education and identifying ways to reduce emissions, the nonprofit sector has the potential to both increase public concern for and help address the underlying factors that lead to climate change. While much good work is being done in the sector, including by some of our current and previous clients, there is ample room for more funding, advocacy, action and innovation in the field.