Funding the action we need on climate change

We are witnesses to an extraordinary climate crisis. A climate emergency is upon us.

Our planet has warmed by an average of one degree Celsius since the pre-industrial era and this is driving increasingly extreme and damaging weather events. Large regions of Australia are experiencing more frequent and damaging drought and bushfires of unprecedented scale, devastating enormous areas of the continent.

The health, wellbeing and future of all Australians are at risk from hotter temperatures. Many of our unique plants and animals are in difficulty and some have been pushed to the brink of extinction. The 2019–20 bushfires provide a glimpse into this future and make clear what is at stake.

There are close links between climate change and other threats to the natural environment, for instance loss of biodiversity, air pollution, shortages of fresh water, and ocean acidification and pollution.

It is crucial that warming does not increase beyond 1.5 degrees. To have a chance of achieving this, scientists recommend reaching “net zero” emissions by 2050 — where any emissions are balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. This means transforming economies across the world, with much of the heavy lifting to be completed by 2030.1

This is the decade where we need to lock in a new direction.

It is a massive but achievable task, marshalling innovation, ingenuity and cooperation, much of which is already in the system or in development. But it needs to happen faster before even more drastic tipping points are reached.

As this transition begins to take place, new jobs, technology and economic opportunities are already emerging: The benefits of this journey significantly outweigh the costs.2

Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to contribute to the challenge by helping to speed change.

Grassroots activism, public awareness and outreach programs, and the demonstration of new models of energy generation and change are crucial ingredients to achieving the shift we need.

Much of this work has relied on volunteering and on donations made in the community and by organised philanthropy. But advocates and change-makers are significantly under-resourced compared to the size of the task.

We estimate only $50 million was available for this work Australia-wide in 2017/18.

At the same time, the fossil fuel industry has large funding coffers to draw on to preserve the status quo.

A growing group of philanthropists has been inspired to use its philanthropy to reverse climate change. We are dedicated to assisting more funders to step up to aid our communities and ecosystems, and help steer Australia’s economy onto an environmentally sustainable path.

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Together with our partners in the community, philanthropy can:

Accelerate the momentum underway for a transition in the energy sector. The transition needs to happen faster and be more comprehensive. It must target the jobs, innovation and opportunities ahead in order to be fair and inclusive. The benefits need to be clear to everyone, especially workers, families and communities in regional Australia whose economic wellbeing currently depends on fossil fuels.

Invest more in areas of opportunity, such as renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, sustainable transport and more carbon-efficient buildings and infrastructure.

Prevent climate change from being used as a cover for bad policy. For example, fracking farmland, areas of high conservation value and Indigenous heritage is not the right approach to the energy transition. 

Promote the adoption of policies that will enable communities and the public and private sectors to make the necessary changes.


  1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Warming of 1.5 oC, IPCC, Geneva, 2018, viewed 28 January 2020
  2. T Kompas, M Keegan and E Witte, Australia’s Clean Economy Future: Costs and Benefits, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, Issues Paper, No 12, June 2019; and R Garnaut, Superpower: Australia’s Low Carbon Opportunity, LaTrobe University Press, 2019.