Climate change guide

We are witnesses to an extraordinary climate crisis. Use this climate change guide to help you tackle the growing climate emergency.

Funding the action we need on climate change

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 in this climate change guide 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.

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.

Australia and climate change

Part of a global response

The Australian Government is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, which aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.3

Brokered in 2016, the agreement is based on nationally determined contributions to these goals, which are supposed to strengthen over time. For its part, Australia committed to reduce emissions to 26–28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

This commitment is one of the weakest of any developed country, with the pace of change involved set to result in a global warming increase of 3 degrees Celsius — unless a new commitment is made. Prior to the Paris conference, Australia’s Climate Change Authority recommended a 45–65 per cent below 2005 levels emissions reduction target for 2030 based on scientific evidence, the commitments of comparable countries and what would be in the best interests of Australia.

The upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow in 2021 is the next major milestone in delivering on the aims agreed in Paris. Countries are expected to come to the United Nations convention with new and stronger commitments.

Australia’s emissions are headed for an increase of eight per cent above 2005 levels by 2030, meaning our emissions are set to far outpace our already insufficient 2030 target.4

The European Union and a diverse range of countries — including the United Kingdom, Morocco and Costa Rica — are leading the way on reducing emissions.5 For a time, back in 2007, Australia became an influential leader in international forums, our commitments then an important example to others.

Australia’s emissions and our efforts matter

  • We emit around 15 metric tons per capita of CO2 each year. The world average is 4.9 metric tons.6
  • We are the sixteenth largest emitter worldwide, not including coal and gas exports, and the largest generator of emissions per head of population.
  • We punch above our weight in terms of pollution, which means if we take meaningful action, others are more likely to take notice. Our moral influence, our soft power, will be much stronger. And when we fail to act, other laggards also notice and draw comfort.

Achieving policy change

Australia’s efforts to reduce global warming must be accelerated and government policies need to be in place to drive emission reduction and climate change adaptation.

Achieving policy change can seem daunting and it is sometimes tempting to think that a focus on anything other than seeking to influence government policy would be better, given the intransigence of the federal coalition over the past decade.

However, it is important to remember that the Howard government went to the 2007 election promising to introduce an emissions trading and carbon pollution reduction scheme.

All state and territory governments have pledged emission reduction targets to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This goal is consistent with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Governments that have signed on include coalition governments in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania.

Ever more frequent extreme weather events across the country ensure that climate change is on the political agenda. How governments respond to the challenge is directly related to the power of the community calling for strong targets and the roadmap to deliver on those targets.


3. The Paris Agreement is one of the most important steps of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994 and has near-universal membership with 197 signatory countries.
4. See It is also important to note that claims by the Australian Government of “meeting and beating” our climate reduction targets include the controversial measure of using carry-over credits.
5. See
6. See

Five steps to build resources for climate action

Increased philanthropic investment in climate action is urgent. But it is not just a question of scale, it’s also about strategy and courage.

In 2018, we undertook climate change research, surveying 134 climate-focused community organisations across Australia. This research assessed how resources flow through these organisations, the level of funding and volunteer support dedicated to particular climate-related issues and approaches, and the gaps where funding is needed but not yet forthcoming.

Results of the climate change research

In 2017/18, Australian organisations working on climate change:

Spent a collective total of $50 millionIncluded 25,000 active volunteersEmployed 284 full time equivalent staff

Building resources for climate action requires philanthropic funders to be generous and take a considered approach to their grantmaking. A funding strategy helps to guide good grantmaking decisions. This climate change guide and associated information and resources will help you develop a high impact funding strategy.

The climate change guide: A summary of the five steps

Step 1: How much can I give and over what time frame?

Acting urgently as a philanthropic funder means giving to your maximum capacity and making timely funding decisions. You can join the growing ranks of funders deliberately spending down to maximise the amount of funds they allocate over the next few years. 

Step 2: What type of emissions will I target?

Your funding strategy should identify the part of the climate change “problem” you want to target with your philanthropy. This means understanding how your philanthropy can change Australia’s energy system and the potential for it to reduce emissions by focusing on an individual sector of the economy.

Step 3: What change-making approach will I target?

Your funding strategy should identify the key approach or approaches you want to support with your philanthropy. We have identified seven key approaches, including communications, advocacy and constituency building, and the potential for philanthropy to build impact. 

Step 4: Which community organisations are aligned with my funding strategy?

When you know what part of the climate problem you want to focus on and the approaches you want to support, you will need to find the right community partners to turn your strategy into climate action.

Step 5: How can I work with other funders to grow the social and economic movement for change?

There are limits to what an individual funder can achieve. But by working with other funders, you can achieve much more. We offer a range of opportunities for collaboration, including a project clearinghouse and networking events. 

Remember, acting sooner with an imperfect funding strategy is better than not acting. You can always refine your strategy over time.

Members have access to the full climate change guide outlining further details to the above steps. Find out more to become a member.