Dawn Austwick: The climate emergency demands an interconnected response

Funders need to look for exceptional and far-reaching actions if we are to mitigate the unprecedented dangers we face from climate change

Dawn Austwick
Dawn Austwick

The climate is changing rapidly, faster than we are able or willing to respond. Wherever we look, we cannot avoid the warning signs. Burning forests, melting glaciers, fossil fuel consumption that shows no signs of diminishing: the scale of the emergency is so all-encompassing that many of us do not know where to start.

But we can and must start, and bring others with us: business, government and grant-holders, groups that hold a complex and powerful set of relationships with the potential to radically shift our response. And as individuals we can act. Whether it is the big $10bn pledge from Jeff Bezos or something much more modest, we can all contribute.

We cannot escape the truth that the good we do in combating climate change cannot exist in isolation or be disconnected from our behaviours, whether that is how we work, how we invest or how we live. This is a deeply interconnected challenge and it needs a deeply interconnected response.

To find solutions we must question together and act together. Funders have choices to make. Do we develop specialist funding streams targeted at addressing climate change, or do we mainstream across all our grant-making?

At the National Lottery Community Fund, we are doing both: recognising the resources we have to kickstart action, while turning a mirror on ourselves and asking how we can adjust our own behaviours. We have been reducing our carbon footprint, exploring how technology enables us to work smarter, how our 12,000 grants a year can contribute to our climate strategy, and trialling top-up grants to help green our grant-holders.

This comes alongside our new Climate Action Fund, a £100m commitment to engage people to take action in reducing the impact of climate change on their communities. We are funding partnerships that will proactively share their learning and engage others to create a broader movement of change. And we will be outward-looking, sharing our learning as we go to create a platform that inspires wider action.

The fund is the largest distributor of money raised for good causes by National Lottery players, but our spheres of influence go beyond our grant-holders to our suppliers, partners and the wider funding family, each with their own levers for change. For example, corporate foundations have links to banks and industry that independent foundations do not. Others have links to government. And we all have brands, buildings and a virtual presence. We need to look to every resource and consider how it can contribute to a truly global effort – and of course many foundations have endowments.

The UN Principles for Responsible Investment and the Carbon Disclosure Scheme go so far, but exceptional and far-reaching actions are required to mitigate the dangers we face. It has been great to see the charitable foundation Funder Commitment on Climate Change gain traction, and we must move beyond pledges if the ambition of a “fair and lasting transition to a post-carbon society” is to be realised. It’s hard to retain moral authority if investment policies fuel the problem.

Divestment is complex and protection of capital is important, but time is not on our side as our waters rise and our forests burn. Leading scientists are telling us the time to act is now. As funders we are in a position to address this holistically across all aspects of our organisations and to use our influence and reach to stimulate and inspire others.

Dawn Austwick is chief executive of the National Lottery Community Fund

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