ClimateWorks Pursues Sound Economics
To Reduce Carbon Emissions

Despite their regular appearance in the news, grantmaking foundations remain something of a mystery to most people, surveys show. Recently the Hewlett Foundation newsletter took a look at some of the many forms foundation work can take. Here’s one. To see the others, click here.

In 2008, the Hewlett Foundation made the largest single grant in its history a $500 million commitment to help create the ClimateWorks Foundation in order to tackle the problem of climate change.

In 2007, when scientists released their report Design to Win: Philanthropy’s Role in the Fight against Global Warming, the philanthropic world had its first credible battle plan to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade. The report, commissioned by Hewlett and five other foundations, identified the reductions in carbon gas emissions that could be realized from various changes in energy planning and policy worldwide and projected the actions needed to reduce the rise in global temperatures to less than two degrees Celsius. The scientists calculated that this is the maximum increase that would likely avoid severe environmental impacts from global warming.

With an approach in hand that could make a difference, the Hewlett, Packard, and McKnight foundations launched the ClimateWorks Foundation, a nonprofit based in San Francisco with the aim of realizing the goals of the Design to Win report. The three foundations committed a total of more than $1.1 billion in coming years to support ClimateWorks’ efforts to hold the rise in global temperatures down to acceptable levels.

ClimateWorks, in turn, makes grants to regional foundations around the world that are working to encourage policies and practices that will, by the year 2030, reduce carbon emissions to the target levels set in the Design to Win report. ClimateWorks also funds networks of experts that work with the regional foundations to promote the best practices in fields like vehicle emission standards, building codes, and energy efficiency.

In China, for example, ClimateWorks makes grants to the China Sustainable Energy Program, which helps Chinese cement factories adopt production methods to reduce the carbon dioxide they generate.

“We have the best data in the world on how to prevent climate change,” Hal Harvey, chief executive officer of ClimateWorks, told the New York Times last year. “Everything is ranked by magnitude, location, and sector. It’s a systematic approach to problem solving.”