Spend more on “desperately under-funded” climate action, urge leading scientists

A group of leading UK scientists have made an urgent plea to charitable foundations and philanthropists to increase funding for environmental action.

The eleven experts today published an open letter to the CEOs and chairs of the UK’s top 100  foundations and top 100 high net worth families, calling for “an extraordinary increase” in grant funding and investment capital to tackle climate change and ecological collapse.

Despite some growth in recent years, environmental philanthropy still represents less than 3% of total giving by UK foundations, according to the Environmental Funders Network. Some £105m of £4bn trust and foundation giving goes towards the environment, with a high proportion of this focusing on conservation, rather than climate change and supporting the transition to a net zero carbon economy.

The open letter – the first direct plea to funders issued by the UK’s scientific community – does not ask for a specific amount of money, but warns of a “desperately under-funded” need and calls on funders to “act with all possible resources to respond to the extraordinary ecological collapse that is happening now”.

The letter continues: “There are many ways you could do this… from civil society and social movements, to green investment in research and innovation, to strategic litigation and public education, the communities working in this field are largely starved of the funding they need.”

Last year’s IPCC report advised that we have 12 years to cut global emissions by 45% or face an existential threat, while a recent UN report on biodiversity revealed that human activity is threatening the existence of over a million plant and animal species.

Chris Rapley CBE, professor of climate science at University College London, who signed the letter, said: “our community of scientists has not previously appealed in such a direct way to the country’s wealthiest, but these are unprecedented times and we need to find new ways to convert knowledge to action.”

Our community of scientists has not previously appealed in such a direct way to the country’s wealthiest, but these are unprecedented times

Reacting to the letter, Sophie Marple, who founded the Gower St Foundation, a family trust that works in education and has never funded climate change, said: “I’ve been shocked, given the enormity of the threat, how under-resourced the space is. We feel a duty to act and will commit a significant portion of our funding to critical environmental work moving forward.”

Public support for investing wisely

Recent studies suggest public opinion is moving in favour of more responsible investing that supports climate and environment priorities.

A 2018 study of UK attitudes by ClientEarth found that over half of those surveyed would expect their pension or investments to avoid fossil fuel projects that contribute to climate change, with 59% of 18-34 year olds saying they would move funds to ensure this.

A YouGov poll taken last month found that some 46% of Brits think charities should not be allowed to invest in fossil fuel companies (although 30% think they should).

Earlier this year a coalition of leading charities and faith groups in the UK called for specific legal guidance on whether charities should be allowed to invest in companies that contribute to dangerous climate change.

Individual investors are unlikely to be able to make a serious dent in the funding shortfall, but some still see their contribution as significant.

Rachel Mountain, head of marketing and communications at investment community Ethex, said that while more awareness is needed, there has already been a “groundswell of support” for investing in areas such as renewable energy.

The platform has raised around £50m for climate-related projects from individual investors since 2013. Mountain suggested there’s potential for such figures to increase dramatically. “The sums are huge in terms of investment needed – but so is the [number of] people on the planet,” she said.