Member reflections on 2021

We asked members to share their reflections on what they learned from 2021.

Dr Catherine Brown OAM, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation

While Australia was not ambitious in its commitments at COP26, there is momentum growing in the race to zero.

One highlight for me was our (Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation) support of the Smart Energy Council’s Global Race to Zero Summit with international and local presenters.

I had the honour of chairing the first session with the Ambassadors from Italy, UK, Denmark and France. It was inspiring to learn about the high ambitions and actions of other countries and the opportunities for Australia to partner on renewable energy and clean technology projects. For example, there is Danish involvement in the Star of the South wind power project in Bass Strait.

This was the year that the Foundation amped up our Clean Technology Powerhouse project with grants to Smart Energy Council (above), Beyond Zero Emissions and the Climate Council and others. Dan Pediaditis has been leading this work with vision.

We also launched a new initiative, the Next Economy Jobs Challenge, where we are funding job creation projects relating to waste management, renewable energy, sustainable food, sustainable housing construction (and the care economy). Sweet Justice, a beekeeping training and job pathway for young people leaving prison was a knock out application that won a scaling up grant.

Catherine Brown OAM and sons at Point Roadknight, Victoria.

There have been times this year when I have felt the weight of the climate challenge. Part of the cliff at Anglesea collapsed and there has been wild weather, flooding and bushfires around the world. 

Part of the cliff at Anglesea, Victoria collapsed in 2021.

I think back to Al Gore’s first version of an Inconvenient Truth. It is hard to believe that everyone cannot see the change happening around us. I am increasingly concerned for the responsibilities and difficulties that our children and the following generations will face if we do not succeed in keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees or below.

Al Gore with Dr Catherine Brown OAM, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

Our focus areas for 2022

I invited Stefan Schurig, the Secretary General of the Foundations Platform F20, to meet with the Board last week at our December Board meeting. F20 is a platform for Foundations from G20 countries working on climate change and the SDGs. Stefan emphasised the importance of foundations supporting climate resilience as well as emissions reduction. This has a particular importance for a community foundation with a place based focus like Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

The race to resilience is becoming more critical. We are about to appoint a project manager for the Community-led Climate Resilience Collaborative, which builds on our work on heatwave and disaster preparedness and response. Our partners are FRRR, VCOSS and Emergency Management Victoria. Our work on climate resilience will grow in 2022.

We placed a climate lens across our granting in 2016 post COP21 where the Paris Agreement was signed.

We are now discussing what Climate Lens 2.0 means for our work in 2022.

Dr Catherine Brown OAM, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation

It is time for courage. It is time to think more deeply about systems change. Energy, housing, food and health are key areas, with many intersections. 

I am becoming more concerned about the ability of people experiencing disadvantage to manage the impacts of climate change. The Climate Safe Homes project with the Brotherhood of St Laurence is an example of retrofitting low-income housing to achieve energy efficiency and to protect vulnerable household from extreme heat  and cold.  Better energy efficiency also leads to lower ongoing running costs.

I am thinking about what we can learn from economic models that are circular and regenerative. Regen Melbourne has been applying Dr Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics tool where a city’s economy transitions to operating within its social responsibilities and ecological boundaries. We will explore this further in 2022.

I am becoming more focused on understanding and then monitoring decarbonisation pathways for the Foundation’s various asset classes.

What gives me hope

I have hope because mainstream, trusted voices are coming forward. Alan Kohler presented Australia’s current trajectory to 1.5 degrees warming on the ABC News last night. The timelines for reducing emissions are short.

I am inspired by people like Costa Georgiadis who was a patron for a sustainable food campaign we ran a few years ago. Costa does not give up. Al Gore does not give up. Farmers for Climate Action, Climate and Health Alliance, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Climate Works and many others do not give up.

Costa Georgiadis with Dr Catherine Brown OAM, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

When faced with a crisis and provided with clear scientific evidence, Australians are able to step up and activate our innovation capability. COVID has shown us this. We will have to do it again – and quickly – if we are to avert a climate crisis.

Sophie Chamberlain, Spinifex Trust

I can’t decide if it’s just because I have personally had a revelation or if it is a genuine change in the landscape (probably a bit of both!) but this year I feel that there has been a giant step made in valuing biodiversity as a significant part of the answer to our environmental challenges.

I totally appreciate the importance of addressing climate change and am hugely grateful that others are working hard in that field, but it is a big and complex issue where outcomes are nebulous and hard to pin down or measure. And I have always felt guilt around not personally doing more about it.

Being part of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy family has meant that naturally I gravitate towards tackling some of the more immediate, tangible activities: very effectively protecting and regenerating habitats and genuinely saving from extinction animal species such as the adorably cute mala (rufous hare-wallaby).

But, there are plenty of times where I have had niggling thoughts about whether this is ‘enough’, whether it’s a worthy use of my time (and funds).

This year I feel the dial has moved and a couple of indicators include:

  1. Australian Wildlife Conservancy won the opportunity to place a stall in the COP26 green zone which they used deliberately to raise the profile of biodiversity and its role in looking after our world.
  2. The AEGN acknowledged that plenty of us have strong interest in this area when they set up the nature funders group in the middle of the year.

These two factors have contributed to really boosting my sense that what I am doing IS relevant and important.

Sophie Chamberlain, Spinifex Trust

Although it’s not directly environmentally related, one of my major goals is to do more ‘values aligned’ investing.

For our family philanthropic fund (where I have a stronger degree of sway over where we invest) I have spent a lot of time researching it down to the nth degree, trying to find the ‘perfect’ opportunities. With the benefit of hindsight, I’d say we should have jumped in and learned along the way but at least I can now say that we have tiptoed into it and my intention is to convert that thin wedge into a wide chunk.

The opportunities to align investments with values are multiplying and, increasingly, the financial returns can be equivalent to or even sometimes exceed ‘traditional’ investments. I strongly encourage others to investigate what they can do and pull on the great expertise within AEGN members.

It is my connection with AEGN that gives me hope for the future.

Sophie Chamberlain, Spinifex Trust

I know that I can’t possibly be across all the different areas – either in terms of funding or even just understanding the issues. My regular reading of the projects that come through the Project Clearinghouse often causes strong feelings of despair and overwhelm – that there is so much to be done, that some of it is SO complicated — making me slump in my chair in defeat before I can even begin to contemplate what might be required of those of us who care.

So it gives me an enormous sense of relief and hope to know that others are keeping tabs on what governments are up to, where the world is failing or where changes are desperately required. And not only keeping tabs; the members of AEGN are doing something about it and sharing opportunities to be part of addressing it, letting us know ways that individuals can be part of making a bigger difference, and that includes even when their monetary contribution can’t be significant.

Passionate members and staff and an effective model mean there is raised awareness and increased activity across the Board — I am so grateful to be part of this.

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