Realising a seismic shift on climate action through philanthropy

Thu, 2 Jun 2022

By: Amanda Martin OAM   |   CEO, Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN)  

As the implications of the recent election settle and Anthony Albanese was sworn in as Australia’s 31st Prime Minister, the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) has been reflecting on what this means for climate and environmental philanthropy.

There is no doubt that the election was a resounding vote for climate and environment action, and we can see this reflected in the appointments of the recent Federal Cabinet. It’s also important, to recognise in Reconciliation Week, that this new government is committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

So many individuals and organisations put countless hours and energy into getting Australia to this new point.

This includes the climate and environment movement, which has demonstrated tenacity, strategy and the capacity to keep learning and adapting. The movement embraced individual and group action but also managed a smooth and robust co-ordination that is not easy to achieve in any sector let alone a diverse and lean charitable cohort.

Behind the scenes of this nationwide movement was an army of volunteers, grassroots groups, experts, scientists and strategists calling for change. Alongside them were many philanthropic funders who, as a collective group, became more strategic, cohesive, smart and willing to take on policy advocacy and ensure conditions were right in the community so that this was a community-led demand for change — for a better climate future.

They supported long-term projects to boost youth participation and engagement in the Federal election, built support for renewable energy in crucial seats and a just transition plan for workers in Western Australia. They funded projects that foster bipartisanship in climate politics and a greater understanding of our climate transition path, including new jobs and economic opportunities. In election week, Green Music Australia’s ‘vote for the planet’ campaign was fully funded in a day. Alongside this philanthropy many individuals supported political candidates and parties, and thousands of individuals from across Australia funded the independents directly or via Climate200.

Climate was clearly an issue in a large number of suburban and regional electorates that shifted from Liberal to Labor seats. In addition, the successful independent candidates and the Greens took strong climate change policies to this election, which clearly won them favour in their electorates, becoming the signature issue in some  inner-city and suburban seats. It also appears to have held sway in many regional electorates.

Exit polling in the rural electorates of Gilmore, Page and Eden-Monaro (all of which suffered the devastating impacts of climate in the 2020 bushfires) showed a large proportion of voters saying climate change was a priority.

The swing to the Greens and independents has been unprecedented, with the Greens picking up an additional three lower house seats, the likelihood of an additional three senators and seven climate-driven independents winning in what had hitherto been seen as safe “heartland” seats for the Liberal Party. The successful candidates also mobilised thousands of volunteers, speaking to the power of community organising to channel discontent into action. It seems to us that young people, women and many others are now more engaged than ever in our precious democracy and this election has helped them understand that they can effect change. 

But the job is not done yet.

This election result gives a clear mandate for the Federal Government to act on climate. But we know from hard-won lessons that a change of government doesn’t necessarily mean that the climate and biodiversity crises go away. While the new government has a better climate agenda than the Morrison government, it still falls short of achieving what’s required for a safe climate. How the Greens and crossbench interacts with the Government, in both the lower and upper houses, will be critical to raising the ambition of Labor’s climate policy agenda, and there’s a huge role to play here in continued advocacy

The challenge for funders now is to keep working with partners and the charitable sector to make sure the Government’s climate agenda is improved upon and actioned quickly — and to make sure it sticks. So, what actions can you take to this end? Here are a few ideas: 

  • Contact your favourite climate and environment group — give them a pat on the back and ask them what’s next.  
  • Take note of the successes in your climate funding and share them with your foundation, family and other funders.  
  • Go to the AEGN’s Climate Change Funders Framework and reassess your priorities in light of a new policy context.
  • Consider joining the AEGN as a way of keeping environment and climate action at the top of your giving agenda and staying abreast of the latest thinking about how to create impact.

This election has shown that with tenacity, strategy and hope we can have impact! We all know how high the stakes are, and there is no time for failure. Get on board as we race against time and make sure this moment really does turn the tides of history!

To understand more about the climate and environmental commitments of the new government and crossbench, you can read our election wrap-up here.

The fifth webinar in Philanthropy Australia’s 2022 series is ‘Advocacy, influencing and impact – how can philanthropy make a difference?’. Find out more about this session and register here.