Philanthropy must act on ‘code red for humanity’

This article was originally published by Alliance on August 17 2021

By Benjamin Bellegy, Executive Director, WINGS.

 

We all know that climate change is no longer a crisis. It has become an emergency.

A groundbreaking report published earlier this month by the world’s leading authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was called a ‘code red for humanity’ by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

The report says that human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented ways and that some of the changes are now inevitable and irreversible, and that we need to take immediate and drastic action to prevent further catastrophe.

If the global scientific consensus on the urgency was not enough to convince all of us – individuals and institutions – that we need to act now and boldly, we can see the effects in the world around us with growing and terrifying frequency. The last few months have shown us a glimpse of what we should expect, not just for a few small Pacific Islands, but for all of us:  floods in Europe and China with hundreds dying, heat waves in North America and devastating fires in Australia, Canada, Greece, Algeria and Turkey.

Emergency means momentum. With COP26 coming up in October this year, we, philanthropic actors, have an opportunity to show our engagement on the climate crisis to the world, and maybe even more importantly to ourselves, our stakeholders, teams and partners. We believe this is not only the role of environment-focused foundations to take action but of the whole philanthropic community.

Historically, WINGS has been cause-agnostic, as a global network whose role is to foster stronger and more impactful philanthropy worldwide. This year, for the first time, we decided that we have a responsibility to leverage our network – which reaches out indirectly to 100,000 philanthropy actors around the world – to push the sector to take action on the climate emergency.

Building on a movement started in the UK with ACF and in other parts of Europe with Dafne’s support, we have engaged 40 philanthropy networks from across the globe to launch the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change. Not because we are drifting away from our core mission, but, on the contrary, because we believe it’s the only way to be loyal to our mission and responsibility. If we don’t do everything we can to counter the existential threat humanity is facing, how can we say we are here to serve social progress and strengthen philanthropy – the love of humanity?

Historically, WINGS has been cause-agnostic, but for the first time, we decided that we have a responsibility to leverage our network to push the sector to take action on the climate emergency.

For the same reason, this commitment calls on all philanthropic actors, regardless of their mission, size and nature, to act. Because whatever the cause is that we care about if we don’t act on climate now how can we be sure that there’ll be a tomorrow to act on our other causes?

More than a pre-condition to achieving our missions in the future, engaging on climate is also a way to better achieve our missions today. As the commitment highlights, the climate crisis is a poverty and inequality issue, a social justice issue, a food and water issue, a health issue, a democracy issue. And the list could go on and on. As much as engaging on climate is a critical issue in itself, it also helps us take a more holistic view about what we are trying to achieve and embrace the interconnectedness of the issues we need to address.

Taking the commitment is also a way for philanthropic actors to learn how to leverage all the instruments of change they have at their disposal. Not only our grants or what we implement on the ground but also our investments and financial assets, our operations, our influence and expertise. By engaging, you will have an opportunity to act at all these levels and learn from the successes and failures of others who have already started the journey.

We will not ask you to reach this or that target. This is an invitation to start a journey – with energy, with a sense of urgency, with a deep commitment to learning and to keep trying, with all our assets, and with the support of others. An invitation to join a global movement and to be collectively determined to transform the way we work, today, tomorrow, and the days after tomorrow.

Philanthropy will not solve the climate emergency alone, but it has to do its part. And this part can be absolutely critical and transformational if we really leverage all our strengths: our $1.5 trillion in financial assets, our capacity to innovate, to connect actors, to support advocacy and social movements, to take risks, to influence mainstream markets and governments.

Anti-climate philanthropy is organised and resourced. It is time for the silent majority of our field to do the same. The commitment provides a starting point and a common platform. Let’s come together to take action and protect our future. Our lives depend on it.


Benjamin Bellegy

Benjamin is the Executive Director at WINGS. He has previously led international programmes in fields such as civil societies’ strengthening, sustainable development or post-disaster reconstruction. He has managed international programmes at Fondation de France, worked for the International Cooperation Agency of Monaco and for several NGOs in Ethiopia, Tunisia and Canada.

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