Track Sessions IV

J. The Environment: 'Are we afraid of fighting climate change?'


  • Paula DIPERNA Special Advisor, CDP North America
  • Wael HMAIDAN Executive Director, Climate Action Network (CAN) International
  • ZHANG Jianyu Vice President, Environmental Defense Fund, China


  • Christine LOH Chief Development Strategist, The Institute for the Environment, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Mr Wael Hmaidan began by explaining how the support of philanthropy for the climate movement had evolved from Copenhagen in 2009 to Paris in 2015. Prior to Copenhagen, one of the largest philanthropic efforts was Project Catalyst. There was an assumption that governments listened to business and business listened to consultants. Therefore, the idea was to write a report that could influence business and subsequently influence government. After Copenhagen, however, philanthropists realised that there should be wider co-operation between actors outside of civil society. After Paris, we need to replicate this type of co-operation that had happened at the national level. The big thing currently missing was influencing public opinion and infrastructure so that we could create more grassroots movement towards climate change. If you did not create a base of support, any progress could not be sustained. There was a huge gap here, and philanthropy had not yet figured out how to fill it.

Mr Zhang Jianyu said philanthropy had been playing a big role in China’s success and the huge decision in 2015 to build the largest carbon market in the world. The nation had made big progress in changes to environmental law. China wanted to be a torch-bearer when it came to the climate change agenda. However, China’s different government agencies worked in silos. Even when commitments had been made, a lack of integration prevented their effective implementation. Philanthropy had also been involved in the building of new technology like blockchain and sensors, and those types of investment could change the way policies were implemented. The last area where philanthropy could be big was public education and awareness. In China there was still a lot of work to do on this. Mr Zhang asked “How do we work with local philanthropies to move from conservation to the global agenda on climate change and environment protection? How can we make the Belt and Road initiative a green initiative?” It did have that potential, he said, because developing countries were coming to China to understand how it solved many of its development challenges.

Ms Paula DiPerna talked about her journey from working on coral reefs to carbon markets. She went from film-making underwater to grant making at a large foundation, and then to helping start the Chicago Climate Exchange. Climate change touched on every aspect of our lives, she stressed. The philanthropic jackpot was to make grants that lined up science, policy and capital, therefore we needed strategic philanthropy. They had never been aligned in her lifetime except at Paris in 2015. It worked for a year but then we went back to misalignment when the US withdrew from the accord. This made it a new opportunity for philanthropy to line up with science and policy.

Professor Christine Loh brought up the need to move public opinion on climate change, saying it was important and necessary for philanthropy to play a role. She asked “What are some of the project ideas or types that are useful for moving public opinion?”.

Mr Hmaidan said the challenge for philanthropy in this area was that the results from building public opinion and infrastructure were not measurable. He reiterated that at the global level there was success, but now more was happening at a national level to create large coalitions between different stakeholders and draw up plans together to achieve the transformation needed. This was working in Europe and even SE Asia, and required radical collaboration. At these national level networks, non-state actors were committing to reduce emissions, but the shaping of dialogue was more important.

Mr Zhang talked about selective collaboration in the Chinese context. The Chinese government had come up with a great policy on green programmes but it did not give equal emphasis to all areas. It put emphasis on green manufacturing and green consumption. There was progress on the latter but sometimes less on the former. In China, he observed, everything had been said and supported in official documents, but you had to pick one area to work on. He cited the shared bike initiative as a good example of local innovation.

Ms DiPerna said philanthropy had probably confused the public in some ways with all the different campaigns it had done with respect to changing environmental behaviour. What if the MTR just put up signs that asked ‘Hong Zero Carbon 2030?’ she commented.  The Bloomberg Foundation had created carbon disclosure reports on what cities were doing to address climate change. There were 18 cities originally reporting, and by 2017 this had grown to 570. Now the challenge was to figure out what to do with the data and reporting. Philanthropy should ask who was using this data and how it was being maximised. Another local innovation was a bank in Finland which came up with a credit card that showed the retail price of the item and the carbon price.  This was an example of how an organisation could use the information that it had strategically. For philanthropists, it meant they should operate at the most strategic level, using the assets they had.

The panel were asked if there was future scope for philanthropies to work with student unions that were influencing disinvestment decisions on campus. Ms DiPerna said a serious challenge for philanthropy was that it was easier to give $10m to one cause rather than $10,000 each to 1,000 organisations. We needed to have aggregators and centralisers to move funding from philanthropies. Mr Zhang talked about how he advised a university where one of the students came out with the idea of creating an app to track green ideas. It was important for universities to implant green ideas in young people’s minds, he said

Another audience member asked how learning from might Asia go back in the other direction to the West, for example on collaboration. Professor Loh commented that it could sometimes be difficult for an NGO to change policies and mindsets. Governments in Asia generally had convening power, which was something money could not buy. In HK, one of the things she did [as Under Secretary for the Environment] was to bring the shipping companies along in the HK Government’s climate change work. They agreed to change to green fuels but said it was not sustainable in the long run unless everyone switched over. Eventually the shipping companies advised the government to change the law and this led to national and regional policy change as well. NGOs were hardly involved. It was a collaboration between Government, business and academics. The other area of learning came from telling businesses that they had commitments under the Paris agreement. She first had to convince government departments, and that process became a template for convincing others.

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