A Just Transition for philanthropy: Equity means moving more money to frontline communities

This post is part of a series highlighting case studies featured in Candid's guide, Centering equity and justice in climate philanthropy. Learn more or download the guide here.

We are living through a time of immense, growing shifts, shocks, and slides that are already resulting in transition, collapse, and conflict as the climate crisis escalates. Simultaneously, I have witnessed beautiful solutions transforming communities, as well as new possibilities fueled by radical imagination for a better world. Communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis — those impacted first and worst by climate change, environmental racism, and other systemic injustices — are leading this transformation.

Yet, for far too long, frontline communities and their grassroots organizations have been severely, chronically underfunded. They are the most impacted — yet they continually achieve outsized results and wins that confront the root causes of the climate crisis and move us all toward localized, regenerative economies. Centering equity and justice in climate philanthropy, the new field guide released by Candid, offers practical support for funders ready to integrate climate justice across their institutions, including their grantmaking and investment practices. Now is the time for philanthropy to align rhetoric with real action in deeply supporting climate justice. This new resource can help you find your role in meaningfully supporting the climate justice movement and frontline communities.

As one of my favorite authors, Ursula K Le Guin, sagely observed, “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” This work is hard and the scale we face daunting - and funders have the responsibility, power, resources, and tools, like this guide from Candid, to take bold action in support of frontline communities and to ensure climate justice.

Community-Driven Impact

Scalable and replicable climate solutions that center equity and move us toward local living economies are ready for your investment. Climate Justice Alliance members, allies, and their communities are leading Just Transition projects grounded in science that keep fossil fuels in the ground and/or use technologies that are proven to reduce emissions. These projects range from Black women-led food sovereignty projects in the Mid-Atlantic and on the West Coast; to community-owned solar and offshore wind projects in the Northeast; to Latinx-led feminist economy projects in the Southwest; to emerging worker-owner cooperative models, like a Black-owned natural building company in the Mid-Atlantic and an Indigenous-owned cooperative farm in the Pacific Northwest; to BIPOC-led non-extractive finance models. Their visions for locally-based, globally-connected solutions to the climate crisis are moving us away from the dig, burn, dump economy and toward alternatives that cool the planet, such as community-controlled renewable energy and relocalized food systems.

At the same time, frontline communities are leading the fight for policies that protect public health and direct public resources to their communities for innovative climate solutions, such as the nation’s strongest environmental justice law passed in New Jersey in 2020, and a local law in Portland, Oregon, passed in 2018, which levies a surcharge on billion-dollar corporations to fund renewable energy programs. This is just a glimpse of powerful, effective,
frontline-led solutions and policy wins that we’ve seen in the last few years alone.

A Crash Course for Funders

And yet, while frontline groups are realizing this vision of a fairer, greener future, their organizations receive a stunningly small share of climate funding.

The new Candid field guide is a comprehensive resource that will help funders respond to the urgency of the climate crisis by moving more money to frontline communities in the Global North and South, at an accelerated rate with a systems change approach that centers equity. In addition to this new resource, Climate Justice Alliance invites funders to join us for a Climate Justice Crash Course for Funders — a journey centered on Climate Justice learning and action in 2022.

This invitation is designed to elevate and respond to the injustices of the past and present, and ground us in a visionary, regenerative, and just future. This crash course will support funders on this path in the following ways:

  1. Understanding your relationship to the movements for climate justice: These movements committed to climate action grounded in justice include: frontline leaders blocking pipelines; worker-owned cooperatives building new economic models; communities organizing to design and build economic hubs that protect the environment; and funders who support and lift up the power of grassroots organizing in frontline communities. 2022 is the year to deepen your understanding of these movements, with frontline leaders as your guides.
  2. Moving significant money and resources to grassroots organizations, at an accelerated rate: Grassroots organizations — those built of, by, for, and directly accountable to frontline communities — are chronically and severely underfunded. As more money moves toward climate action from new and seasoned foundations, corporations, individuals, and government, this giving must align with justice and now is the time. We can no longer rely on any climate approach that maintains the dig, burn, dump economy, by not reducing emissions at their source. Grassroots-led climate solutions are replicable, scalable, in motion, and ready for investment.
  3. Aligning your commitment to equity and justice with your grantmaking and investment practices: We cannot solve the climate crisis with approaches that do not center equity, systemic change, and living within the boundaries of ecological limits. Science has shown us that we must keep fossil fuels in the ground; and we know that unproven geoengineering technologies, such as carbon capture and sequestration, can be perilous. We invite you to engage with Climate Justice Alliance members and partners to learn about their opposition to false climate promises and frontline-led climate solutions that deploy science and technology while centering equity and well-being. Learn from frontline leaders about the strength and interconnection between social movements in the U.S. and those in the Global South; and how very little of climate philanthropy is moved outside the U.S., further consolidating wealth and power.
  4. Rethinking philanthropy’s relationship with frontline communities and grassroots organizations: There is no time like the present to reckon with the roots of philanthropy, the source and the impacts of the wealth held by individuals and foundations, and the investment strategies that generate profit to keep foundations going and growing. In most cases, wealth held by foundations today was extracted from frontline communities through exploited labor, devastation of ecological systems and community health, and manipulation of our democracy and laws. We encourage philanthropic institutions to embrace and reflect deeply on the complex dimensions and contradictions of philanthropy. Consider what real steps you can take toward sharing decision-making power to return capital to frontline communities through building trust, practicing humility and reciprocity, and leaning into inquiry and learning.

Remember: transition is inevitable, justice is not. Are your grantmaking and investment practices and your long-term plans for your endowment aligned with the compounding crises of our times? And, do they truly align with and put into action “love of humanity” — the root of the word “philanthropy?” Environment and climate funding practices that do not center frontline communities and grassroots organizations have not created the large-scale, systemic shifts we need to respond to the interlinked crises of our time. What actionable steps can you take to change that?

We invite you to engage in dialogue in 2022 with frontline leaders; learn from the distinct, embodied knowledge and expertise they bring; and follow their lead toward transformations that build new, equitable systems to combat climate change and build local, living, regenerative economies that benefit us all.

About the author(s)

Co-Executive Director
Climate Justice Alliance