With the United Nations climate talks wrapping up in Dubai, foundations and other funders pledged at least $2.1 billion in new financing to reduce climate impacts, especially from agriculture, and increasing help for vulnerable communities.
The Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC, or COP28 summit, featured numerous firsts, including forums on health, food production and philanthropy. The estimated pledges, which do not represent a complete account of philanthropic commitments at COP28, came from a mix of foundations and private companies with some made in partnership with governments. They will be delivered over a range of timelines.
For the first time, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria sent a delegation to the conference, pledging to spend 70% of its budget, about $9 billion, in the 50 most climate vulnerable countries over the next three years.
"The honest answer is that the global health community, including us, was so focused on COVID-19, that we probably didn't pay enough attention to all the signs of what climate change was doing to global health," said Peter Sands, CEO of the Global Fund.
His organization also launched a set of principles for financing projects at the intersection of climate and health along with the World Health Organization, the Green Climate Fund, The Rockefeller Foundation and COP presidency.
The first Business & Philanthropy forum offered foundations, donors and corporations a larger formal role at a time when COP28 leaders are looking to secure more financing from the private sector.
According to a report from ClimateWorks Foundation released earlier this month, philanthropic funding for climate change mitigation was essentially unchanged in 2022, after showing consistent growth for the past three years. The lack of growth is attributed to global economic conditions, including increased inflation.
"Every sector of society must do more to contribute, including philanthropy," said Helene Desanlis, ClimateWorks' director of climate philanthropy for global intelligence, which she said includes both increasing funding amounts and collaborating more closely with other funders and actors.
The forum announced new blended finance vehicles, which can fund initiatives through a mix of corporate investments and donations, as well as a call to direct funding for Indigenous peoples already working to protect the environment in their communities.
Ozawa Bineshi Albert, co-executive director of the Climate Justice Alliance, which advocates for people and organizations in frontline communities affected by climate change, said it's a welcome idea to increase funding for Indigenous peoples, who she says always face an uphill battle to be heard in these meetings.
"It would be generous for me to say I'm cautiously optimistic," said Albert. "There's a difference between folks advocating to be benevolent caretakers of Indigenous people versus Indigenous people being at the table because they're players and they have a stake in what's going to happen."
Albert said the Business & Philanthropy forum can be helpful, but government policy and regulation, especially in reducing carbon production, would be far more helpful.
"Should they and could they do more? Absolutely," she said." Do I think their investment in this is going to rescue us from the crisis we're in? No. The government still has to act. If we're not reducing and eliminating the production of carbon with our energy sources, no matter how much philanthropy invests, we will never be able to dig out of the hole."
Christie Ulman, president of the Sequoia Climate Foundation, which focuses on driving down emissions in part through transitioning to clean energy, said she is supporting their grantee organizations and partners at COP in advocating for ambitious targets for renewable energy and decreasing other pollutants like methane.
"We also are there encouraging the fossil fuel phase out agenda and mainstreaming that," she said of her organization's role at the summit. Along with multiple other philanthropic funders, Sequoia announced a $450 million commitment to target the reduction of methane and other pollutants over three years.
Last year, Sequoia along with some of the same funders, pledged $500 million over three years to accelerate the transition to clean energy sources in low- and middle-income countries. So far, Ullman said that coalition has granted out 40% of the commitment, or around $200 million.
Ulman said that the investments are targeted to support the plans and projects that countries have already made around energy transitions and she hopes that additional funding will follow.
The Bezos Earth Fund pledged $100 million to support a plan by Pacific Island nations to protect and sustainably manage marine ecosystems. Bloomberg Philanthropies also made commitments around protecting oceans, transitioning to clean energy and supporting cities adapting to climate change.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has long focused on food insecurity through developing tools and technology to help farmers adapt to climate change, announced a new commitment of $100 million along with the United Arab Emirates, who committed another $100 million. Some of those funds will go to CGIAR, an agricultural research group, which the Gates Foundation has supported with more than $1 billion in grants over time.
"No other effort to adapt to climate change will have more impact," Gates said in prepared remarks, of CGIAR.
The Gates Foundation and other funders also pledged a collective $770 million to expand the work of a fund founded by the UAE to eliminate neglected tropical diseases, called Reaching the Last Mile Fund.
Sands, of the Global Fund, advocated for using the existing global health architecture as much as possible to diminish the burden on health systems in individual countries and called for swift action in the short term as climate change exacerbates health inequities around the world.
"Fundamentally what it's doing is making those who are most vulnerable and least able to access health services even more vulnerable and even less able to access how health services," he said.