Putting people at the heart of climate action

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Climatework Foundation

When ClimateWorks Foundation was founded in 2008, climate philanthropy was in its infancy. We heavily invested in climate solutions optimized for sector-based, gigaton-scale emissions reductions. We’ve seen the vast benefits of this approach, demonstrated by real and lasting emissions reductions, but also its limitations. Many policies have led to benefits accruing inequitably, and/or have failed to get implemented because of lack of public buy-in. We’ve learned climate solutions are most successful and enduring when they center people, and engage those most impacted by the problem.

Also at the time of our founding, the impacts of climate change were not felt as starkly as they are today where 85% of the world’s population is being affected by climate change. Our planet is baking and it’s upending people’s daily lives in ways big and small, seen and unseen.

As an organization dedicated to ending the climate crisis by amplifying the power of philanthropy, we have been moving beyond a “gigatons-first” lens to expand our focus on people-centered climate solutions. We believe this is necessary to accelerate climate action, drive people- and planet-killing emissions out of the global system, and achieve durable and just change during this decisive decade.

Gigatons-first approaches are effective but can fail if they don’t provide benefits for low-income and historically excluded communities

ClimateWorks has historically taken a techno-economic approach to solving the climate crisis. We’ve seen a lot of success with this approach – it’s been critical to identifying where we can get our biggest “carbon bang” for our buck, and helped bend the emissions curve significantly. Today, climate solutions are more affordable and more available than ever before. But these top-down techno-economic interventions can fail if they don’t take into account the direct economic and social impacts on people and communities. For example:

In France, the Yellow Vests movement and associated social unrest of 2018 was motivated by rising crude oil and fuel prices, and the disproportionate burden of fuel taxation (carbon tax) on working and middle classes. Ultimately, due to protests and unrest, President Emmanuel Macron abandoned the fuel tax.

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