Addressing the climate challenge: Think globally – act locally

Stefan Schurig, Foundations Platform F20, highlights the impact that decisions made at a global level will have locally and calls on philanthropists to take a stance on the climate crisis.

This article was commissioned for PEXnews.

Never before in human history has there been a challenge of this reach. It affects every country in the world and threatens lives, health systems and economies. What sounds like a reasonable description of the current pandemic is also true for the global climate crisis. Both represent an unprecedented global vulnerability experience. And both urgently require global coordination and local action. In my early years as an environmental activist in the 1990s, there was a broadly used slogan: “think globally – act locally”. I think this perfectly describes how to respond to a pandemic – and to even bigger challenges like the global climate crisis and sustainable development.

“The key to making us less vulnerable and more resilient lies of course not in artificially sustaining a destructive system”

The key to making us less vulnerable and more resilient lies of course not in artificially sustaining a destructive system, but by stabilizing the environment, reducing pollution levels, deploying a regenerative agriculture or transitioning to a renewable energy system. Mitigating future risks clearly suggests a development trajectory that helps to limit and decrease environmental risks related to climate change, the extinction of species or degradation of land. Therefore, we need political decisions, that enable cities and communities to increase the resilience of our societies. In my view – this would be the most important Key Performance Indicator for governments.

Having said that, the “European” year of 2021 will be hugely important for the global political agenda with far-reaching consequences for cities and regions. Foundations and philanthropy have a key role to play in this endeavour – regardless of their specific profile or programmes. Firstly, by taking a stand on climate and sustainable development with regard to multilateral policy forums such as the G20 or the UNFCCC. Secondly, by encouraging their peers and partners to do the same and thirdly, by using their influence as asset owners that invest only in future-proof sectors. A good start would be to back initiatives such as the International Philanthropy Commitment on Climate Change.

“Foundations and philanthropy have a key role to play in this endeavour – regardless of their specific profile or programmes.”

A bold climate commitment by the G7 and the G20 countries including a zero-emission target by 2050 and concrete steps on how to get there, is indispensable. This will not only send a clear sign to the global financial markets but also set the bar for the upcoming UN Climate Summit in Glasgow in November. The UK and Italy hosting the G20, the G7 and the COP26 this year creates a huge window of opportunity to exhibit leadership at these multilateral forums especially taking into account the new US-administration and its most recent way back into the Paris Agreement.

We also need a concrete decision to act on the concept of ‘shifting the trillions’ and close the Climate Finance Gap between the current trajectory and the goals of the Paris Agreement. Clear signs would include a ‘no new coal’ commitment as an important bridgebuilder between the G7, G20 and the COP 26. Or mandatory disclosure of climate risks by enterprises in their reporting/balance sheets. This would be a concrete step towards a new risk-hierarchy and could unleash the global energy transition.  

Think globally – act locally – as mentioned above, also fittingly describes the work of thousands of community foundations around the world. The pandemic has put vast constraints upon cities and communities to react on immediate COVID-19 relief matters, their health systems or their public space. It poses a colossal challenge to the local and regional economies. As will future challenges, related to the future impacts of the climate crisis and sustainable development.

The most recent experiences of community foundations in dealing with the pandemic tells a story of the resilience of communities and their readiness to mitigate and prepare for future emergencies. These lessons learned can be an important seismograph for further addressing the climate challenge in this critical decade.

“These lessons learned can be an important seismograph for further addressing the climate challenge in this critical decade.”

As mentioned above, foundations and philanthropy have a key role to play in this endeavor. Regardless of their specific profiles or programmes. There are of course numerous opportunities corresponding closely with local conditions or the financial means of individual organisations. Taking a clear stand with regard to those immensely important political decisions from the G20 or the UN is a good point of departure. With the F20 platform, we seek to transfer this message to the governments of the G20 countries. We need ‘all hands on deck’ for the ‘Decade of Action’ and are excited to work with our partners from around the globe.

Stefan Schurig

Secretary General of the Foundations Platform F20

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