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Philanthropy's Role in Fighting Climate Change

Global warming is perhaps the most difficult environmental challenge of our time, and the philanthropic world has a vital role to play in combating it.

With its support to the ClimateWorks Foundation and Network, the Hewlett Foundation joins an international effort that is advancing innovative policies to encourage low-carbon, energy-efficient activities to prevent the planet from warming more than two degrees Celsius-the amount scientists deem to be a threshold beyond which warming trends will be increasingly difficult to stop.

The stakes are enormous. Melting ice and the resulting rise in sea levels are accelerating beyond predictions, and dangerous tipping points once thought to be a century away may now occur in decades. Scientists believe that we need to make drastic changes in the way we use energy over approximately the next decade to prevent irreversible climate change. The impact of global climate change left on its current course threatens the long-term success of nearly every other initiative our Foundation supports, not just with the environment, but particularly with our grantmaking to support people living on less than $2 a day.

How should philanthropy respond? For the Hewlett Foundation, the first step was to join in 2007 as part of a consortium of foundations, including the Packard, Oak, Doris Duke, Joyce, and Energy foundations, to fund research to learn the answer. The result was the report Design to Win, which concluded that philanthropic interventions in five sectors-power, industry, buildings, transportation, and forestry-hold the potential to forestall irreversible changes in the planet's temperature. The goal is clear, if ambitious: the world must cut annual CO2 emissions by 30 billion tons below currently projected levels by 2030 to avoid the crucial tipping point. The report also analyzed current philanthropic investments in combating climate change and estimated the cost to implement the Design to Win strategies.  It concluded that hundreds of millions in new philanthropic support each year is needed if researchers, advocates, policymakers, and academics around the world hoped to accomplish this ambitious and necessary goal.

That is why the Hewlett Foundation decided to make a five-year, $100 million a year commitment, beginning in 2008, to ClimateWorks. ClimateWorks Foundation is a clearinghouse for this work, coordinating and supporting an international network of regional climate foundations in each of the world's top carbon-dioxide-emitting regions-the United States, the European Union, China, India, and Latin America, as well as one to monitor the preservation of forests.  The ClimateWorks Foundation is governed and led by a board of preeminent civic, business and scientific leaders from around the world and committed to supporting and sharing the best approaches to combating climate change from every corner of the world.

The international partnerships already in place include the European Climate Foundation, the India Sustainable Energy Foundation, also known as Shakti, and the China Sustainable Energy Program.  ClimateWorks Foundation is also coordinating a network of nonprofit organizations to offer rigorous analysis to support the regional foundations' work. These so-called "best practice networks" are designed to provide technical support and analysis to inform good policy in each of the sectors identified in the Design to Win report-power, industry, buildings, transportation, and forestry. 

To assure that the organizations in the ClimateWorks Network are promoting the most efficient practices to reduce emissions, ClimateWorks uses rigorous quantitative analysis to determine which policies can achieve the fastest, most significant reductions and weighs them against the economic costs of implementation. The ClimateWorks approach uses a full range of strategies, including research, polling, media outreach, grassroots organizing, and legal support, to coordinate the regional foundations' efforts to slow emissions. The regional foundations use grants, contracts, and direct programs to organize the forces needed to realize policies that reduce emissions.

As this work continues to unfold, the first priority of ClimateWorks is to prevent the locking-in of significant new sources of CO2 emissions through inaction.  Efforts are underway to slow the loss of tropical rain forests, which absorb CO2 from the air. If current trends continue, the world will lose nearly 250 million acres of rain forest by 2030 with the corresponding increase in CO2. Similarly, alternatives must be found to the construction of new coal-fired power plants, which would increase emissions for decades.

The ClimateWorks Foundation is a global effort modeled on the successful track record of the Energy Foundation in the United States, an institution our foundation has been proud to support since 2001, and which is a critical regional partner in the ClimateWorks Network.

With the launch of ClimateWorks Foundation and Network, funders of this effort and others in the philanthropic world have made a start. But we cannot carry out its ambitious agenda alone. We look forward to joining with new partners to succeed in this most crucial of fights.