What’s next for climate philanthropy in Asia?


After this year’s COP26, where does this leave philanthropists working to address climate change? Sarah Tam, APC’s new Programme Lead for its recently-launched Climate Collective, shares her thoughts.

Recently, world leaders gathered in Glasgow for the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) with one mission in mind: to keep the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5oC. Two weeks of intense negotiations delivered a new global agreement – the Glasgow Climate Pact – that aims to reduce the worst impacts of climate change.

Beyond this, bold commitments were made to curb methane emissions, halt and reverse forest loss, accelerate the phase-out of coal, and stop international financing for fossil fuels, to name a few. For example, Indonesia, home to the third-largest rainforest in the world, joined the commitment to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. As a major coal exporter and the world’s 8th largest emitter, the Indonesia also committed to reduce methane emissions and phase out coal-fired power plants by 2040. Vietnam will also join 140 countries pledging to aim for a net-zero emissions target by 2050 and to phase out coal by 2040.

Funders also recognise the urgency of climate change and have significantly increased their contributions to tackle the climate emergency. At COP26, Rockefeller Foundation and IKEA Foundation announced plans to create the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet in order to channel more funding towards energy transition in the Global South.

Yet, despite the urgency and complexity of the climate crisis, climate philanthropy in Asia is at a nascent stage. So, the question remains: What’s next for climate philanthropy in Asia?

Philanthropists play a critical role in the global response to climate change and by using risk-tolerant, patient capital, they can channel funding towards gaps and innovative solutions. In short: absorb risk, move quickly, scale projects. For a more nuanced perspective, APC turned to other philanthropists and thought leaders to understand the role of philanthropy to drive climate action in Asia. Here is what we learned:

1. Asia needs leaders in Asia

Recently, APC partnered with Active Philanthropy, Philanthropy Insight, and Tara Foundation to deliver the Strategic Climate Philanthropy workshop series – a seven-part series focused on unpacking climate philanthropy in Southeast Asia. What emerged was a desire to see more Asia-based leaders – businesses, governments, NGOs, philanthropists – take the lead on climate action in our region. While COP26 created a foundation for stronger climate action globally, philanthropists in Asia have a role to play to break down silos, build the ecosystem of actors, and share best practices (and best failures) from their own experiences.

2. Adapt, mitigate, integrate

For those active in climate action, there are two channels of work: climate mitigation, which focuses on reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, and climate adaptation, which focuses on adjusting to current or potential climate impacts. Professor Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), offers a third way forward: Integration.

Calling in from COP26 in Glasgow during venn2021, Professor Huq urged APC members to consider how climate change intersects with their areas of work, and to identify ways in which climate change could be incorporated as a pillar or a horizontal theme across their philanthropy strategy.

The future is uncertain, but what is certain is that everything will be affected by climate change. Faced with this reality, Professor Huq, emphasised: “We cannot just give up, even if success is partial.”

3. Collaboration is essential

Indeed, we cannot give up. Climate change is complex and requires partnerships between governments, the private sector, and civil society to achieve the goals set out under the Paris Agreement and Glasgow Climate Pact. With a crisis this big, collaboration is essential and having experts from different fields, especially if they come with different perspectives, is a benefit to any collective action.

Some APC members have decided to take action and make climate a focus through the APC Climate Collective—a circle-within-the-circle wholly focused on climate philanthropy. Launching officially in January 2022, the Climate Collective will be a platform for philanthropists to take part in learning opportunities, collaborate with seasoned experts, and find new opportunities to work with fellow members and global funders like Bloomberg Philanthropies to address climate change in Asia.

We cannot just give up, even if success is partial.

— Prof Saleemul Huq

Ready, Set, Go: Realigning your Philanthropy Goals

This window for action is shrinking, but it is still open. We have one last opportunity to rally regional action for climate change – and we must seize it. On 22 January 2022, APC is convening Climate Conversations: Philanthropy Through a Climate Lens—a special two-track event examining ways to integrate climate into our members’ existing work. This will launch the Climate Collective and kick off the new year as we move forward in this decisive decade. Keep an eye out as we share more ahead!