Breakfast Briefing | Climate Week NYC 2023

During the third week of September, like bees to a hive, three events draw governments, foundations, civil society organisations, and corporations to New York: the United Nations’ 2023 SDG Summit, the Clinton Global Initiative’s meeting, and Climate Week NYC. The goals for these three forums are different and yet shared — to build consensus and commitment around some of the world’s biggest problems.

 

This year, the headlines and sidewalks were occupied by voices of the climate crisis. Despite the momentum from activists and politicians, the perspectives of those countries who are

 

dealing with the headiest impacts of climate change — countries across the global South — were unfortunately relatively unheard.

 

While being present in New York, the India Climate Collaborative (ICC) hoped to introduce some of these perspectives and share lessons we’ve learned over the last few years of mobilising philanthropy towards climate action in our country.

Attendees gather for coffee and breakfast at the ICC’s convening in New York © Bobby Guliani

Over piping hot coffee, the ICC convened a group of more than 60 people in a breakfast discussion to invite perspectives from a group of experts on climate change and philanthropy.

 

From 2019–20 to 2021–22, there has been an 11x increase in domestic donor giving towards climate action (ICC data and analysis), and as climate funding has increased, the team at the ICC has noticed three broad insights, which we shared with our guests.

First, while funding towards climate action is increasing, there isn’t always a clear distinction between what is categorised as climate and what is not. For example, when combing through data for the ICC’s upcoming report on climate philanthropy, our team discovered that of all the CSR-funded projects tagged under different categories, almost 1/3rd of them could have been categorised as climate projects — but were not.

 

This is nobody’s fault — the climate change ecosystem is new, and we don’t have clear language around what needs to be funded. A shared taxonomy will allow us to collectively build on gaps and direct funding to the most critical and urgent areas of need.

 

Second, there’s an evolving approach in new age philanthropy, with a movement from giving purely traditional donations to a more portfolio-centric view of giving, and an openness to considering multiple financial instruments — like low or no cost debt for example. This type of philanthropic giving can send a strong signal to the market and can de-risk private capital, inviting new types and sources of investment.

 

And finally, we need to move philanthropic giving from thinking about funding sectors to funding systems. Domestic philanthropy is still focused on project-based funding, rather than large level systems-based funding. Traditionally, philanthropy in India has come in to plug service delivery gaps — we need to encourage philanthropy to solve for causal relationships and triggers rather than symptoms. In addition, we need to foster accountability among those who are responsible for giving and highlight the importance of supporting the institution and systems within which it sits, as opposed to the programmes and the projects, which it addresses.

 

Shloka Nath (CEO, ICC) at the ICC’s Breakfast Briefing in New York © Bobby Guliani

Keya Madhvani Singh (Head-Engagement, Strategy and Operations, ICC) speaking during the session © Bobby Guliani

Attendees listening to the ICC’s presentation during the convening © Bobby Guliani

None of these insights are new, but sometimes, as Pavan Sukhdev, CEO of GIST Impact and one of the founders of the Green Economy movement, reiterated, you need to repeat something again and again until it sticks. While outlining the difference between the footprint reduction challenge the developed world faces versus the green development challenge developing economies like India face, he referenced a number from a UN report he worked on, which he believes has been buried for 13 years. A target reallocation of 2% of global GDP towards ‘green’ investment could, over time, transition the entire world to a green economy — increasing long-term economic performance and total global wealth, as well as enhancing stocks of renewable resources and reducing environmental risks.

 

Dr. Arunabha Ghosh, founder-CEO of Council on Energy, Environment and Water also shared his insights around the five areas where philanthropy could be driving outsized change in India: reducing a demand-side carbon footprint by catalysing behavioural change rather than hyper-focusing on supply; supporting the energy transition by supporting livelihoods; crowding in private finance (much like our second observation); moving beyond only carbon-focused giving to investing in natural capital as well; and disaster-proofing our society. By assessing systems-level transformations in sectors like industry or energy as well

 

as quality of life issues (air, water, food, etc), he proposes that we can then apply the relevant levers — including finance, technology, and even a revived multilateralism — to enable green development.

 

Jonathan Pershing, Program Director of Environment at William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, also echoed the insight we had noticed around a new kind of leadership that is required, sharing that from his perspective a voice from India — a country with a distributed generation economy, many small villages, and a heavily dependent agriculture community — can characterise what is possible for other countries and bring nuance to global thinking about combatting climate change.

 

The discussion ended back where it all began — the climate crisis is impending, and yet is only one kind of challenge the world faces today. As leaders of the world gathered in New York, they were confronted with a multitude of challenges, all human and complex and harrowing — and it is with this perspective, that Elizabeth McKeon of IKEA Foundation, suggested that in this maze, philanthropy can play the role of a beacon, stewarding society towards progress with communities, justness, and people at its core.

 


Written by Keya Madhvani Singh, Head — Engagement, Strategy and Operations, ICC.

 

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