Climate change and philanthropic purpose

Climate change affects nearly everything philanthropy cares about. To illustrate, we selected three important philanthropic purpose areas and researched their relationship to climate change.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for strategic grantmaking. The 17 SDGs are central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UN Agenda recognises that achieving peace and prosperity for the world community requires a focus on a range of social and economic strategies, while tackling climate change and preserving nature.

Foundations that adopt SDGs gain access to tools and data on national efforts and achievements against the goals.


Good health is arguably the most important asset an individual can have. Physical and mental health problems prevent individuals from achieving their full potential. Philanthropy invests heavily in medical research, health promotion and eradicating disease.

Climate change is a threat to health

Rising temperatures increase the geographic range of disease carrying mosquitoes, putting an additional 350 million people at risk of malaria. In developing countries, changing rainfall patterns reduce access to clean water. This increases the risk of other diseases like diarrhoea, particularly in children. Climate change also affects mental health.

In Australian cities and among outdoor workers, there is an increased risk of heatstroke or even death. This is due to more frequent heatwaves and hotter night temperatures. Vulnerable people and older people are particularly at risk. In extreme weather events, individuals are at risk of death and injury. The health system is placed under enormous pressure.

Increasing green spaces, enhancing shade through tree planting and rolling out roof top gardens can improve urban sustainability, while enhancing health and wellbeing. Vulnerable people, who cannot afford to air condition or properly heat their homes, can be targeted with special initiatives.

Food security

Food security exists when everyone within a community has enough nutritious food to live a healthy, active life. As a wealthy country, with a strong agricultural sector, food insecurity in Australia has mainly been experienced by disadvantaged, vulnerable people. Philanthropy has a long history of responding to unequal food access through supporting food relief.

The agricultural sector is on the frontline of climate impacts. Farmers are experiencing an increase in major climate events including floods and droughts. This threatens livelihoods as well as physical and mental health. Whole communities are under enormous pressure. Climate change affects rainfall patterns and average temperatures, rendering some areas unsuitable for the agriculture that has been supported in the past. The Murray-Darling Basin food bowl is at risk from lower rainfall in the southern states.

Certain types of food become unavailable when crops are destroyed by floods or cyclones. If food is harder to produce, prices go up and access to fresh food items in urban areas is affected. This means a greater proportion of the population is at risk of food insecurity. There is great potential to improve the food system while responding to climate change. Growing food locally, practicing regenerative agricultural techniques, restoring native vegetation and eradicating food waste help to increase food security. Individuals also benefit from eating less meat, and more locally grown fruit and vegetables.


Natural disasters are events which cause death, injury and damage to property and natural assets. Philanthropic support is highly valued by communities which have experienced an extreme weather event. While the general public is most aware and generous immediately after a natural disaster, philanthropy understands that it can take years for a community to rebuild and recover.

Climate change has increased the severity and frequency of extreme weather events around the world.

This includes an increase in heatwaves and higher risk of extreme fire events like the Black Saturday fires of 2009 and the Queensland floods of 2018 and 2019. Droughts of increasing severity and duration threaten food security and livelihoods in some areas, and floods damage property in others. Severe storms are more prevalent, with higher wind speeds and an increase in destructive floods.

Disasters are particularly devastating for low-income and disadvantaged people, who lack the means to protect themselves from an event and have difficulty rebuilding. Women in disadvantaged areas are also disproportionately impacted by disasters due to their social roles.

The impacts of natural disasters extend beyond direct threats to people, property and livelihood. As weather becomes more volatile, impacted communities face drastic increases in the cost of insurance which in turn drives people to migrate away from their homes in the worst hit areas.

While natural disasters themselves cannot be addressed without dealing with the root causes of climate change, building resilience and adaptation are crucial to saving lives and minimising ongoing harm. Community infrastructure should be planned and built with the aim of withstanding natural disasters. Social infrastructure, such as strong community networks, is equally important.