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Climate Change – Australia’s Philanthropic Challenge


Wednesday, 7th November 2007 at 2:06 pm
Staff Reporter
Philanthropy has an important role to play in addressing the issues of climate change according to David Shelmerdine from the Myer Family Office in his speech to the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network annual conference in Melbourne.

Wednesday, 7th November 2007
at 2:06 pm
Staff Reporter


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Climate Change – Australia’s Philanthropic Challenge
Wednesday, 7th November 2007 at 2:06 pm

Philanthropy has an important role to play in addressing the issues of climate change according to David Shelmerdine from the Myer Family Office in his speech to the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network annual conference in Melbourne.

He describes the great challenge for climate change philanthropy as being the need to understand that environmental problems and human welfare problems are interconnected.

Here is an edited extract from his speech:

Climate change is not a single issue it is an issue that will affect all the work that grantmakers support whether it be the environment, poverty, social justice, biodiversity, global health etc. It is simply no longer possible to avoid the issue, for the problems we are trying to correct in every one of these areas will be impacted upon and exacerbated by global warming.

Important questions for grant makers will be: Do we address the cause of climate change, or the symptoms, or perhaps, do we address both? How, where and when do we allocate our resources?

Treating the symptoms delivers short term rewards. It does not, however, lead to long term individual and whole of community behavioural change towards preventing, and /or mitigating the impact of climate change.

For example planting a tree or events like Earth Hour, where two million Sydney residents on March 31st "flicked" the switch, resulting in a 10.2% drop in energy
usage across the CBD, provide the individual with the feeling of a" fix" of sorts, but this type of behaviour is symbolic rather than sustainable.

Equally, short term political terms and agendas are of great concern as they smack of short-termism and tend to seduce voters with promises of a national vision that ultimately gets put on the never never. This is unacceptable from a long term
planning perspective in relation to maintaining and guarding the health of our planet.

It is far easier to deliver a major road infrastructure in support of a new suburb or two than a policy framework that embeds long term social and environmental structural benefits to the nation. For example: an Emissions Trading System. The architecture and implementation of such a scheme still remains the subject of debate at the political level.

It is only by addressing the cause that we will bring about long term benefits to the environment and global communities. This is not a trade off between the economy and the environment because as the Stern Review estimates, if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. In contrast, the cost of action – reducing green house gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.

Philanthropy has an important role to play in identifying, accelerating, and/ or acting
as a catalyst for interventions. Philanthropy’s attributes – resources, appropriate counsel and influence – can be applied, in partnership, to develop effective interventions leading to long term fundamental change.

The environmental movement globally, via its various organisations, has a mixed record and reputation when it comes to climate change and the environment. AEGN, is essentially, starting from a greenfields position in Australia.

Finally, the decision as to where you allocate your resources, be it at the symptoms,
the cause of climate change or maybe even both is a challenging proposition.

My own observation is that the diminution of Biodiversity, as a result of climate change, will be our greatest loss. These precious bounties and gifts will be lost forever.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for climate change philanthropy is the need to understand that environmental problems and human welfare problems are interconnected. My friend Hugh Possingham from the ecology centre at the
University of Queensland tells me that forty thousand generations x two billion people will be impacted by the loss of Biodiversity.

It may not sound so, I am, however, optimistic. The Human race with their ingenuity, their needs, wants and desires, along with their ever increasing access to better and better technologies will be able to fight the war on climate change. This has been evidenced for instance by improvements to air quality – in the banning of CFC’s, the scrubbing of SO2 and NO2 from flu stacks. Further, in the developed world we will become more energy efficient leading to reduced energy demand and lower GHG emissions.

It is even more important for the developing world in collaboration with the developed world to tackle the war on climate change. In the words of Chinese premier Wen
Jiabao, "Every company, every community, every organisation and every citizen" should take part in programmes to reduce consumption of oil, gas and coal and to reign in emissions causing global warming.



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