Driving assessment

Addressing the climate crisis requires additional support from health donors

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published their latest review of the extent to which human activity is causing climate change and the multitude of ways in which climate change will create catastrophic effects if not mitigated. The IPCC report, widely regarded as the most comprehensive and reliable assessment of our changing climate, calls for much stronger action by governments around the world if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – a goal that would avoid the worst consequences for human health and survival.

During this National Public Health Week, it is important to emphasize that climate change is arguably the most pressing public health threat we face today. Unless we drastically reduce carbon emissions before the end of the decade, the growing climate crisis will increase droughts, heat waves and other extreme weather events; degrade the productive capacity of our food systems; erode the viability of towns and villages to maintain their current structures and designs; and increase human mortality from vector-borne diseases, respiratory conditions and cardiovascular conditions.

Given the global scale of the climate crisis, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wonder what we can realistically achieve in our own communities. However, it is important to remember that public health is where you are. There is so much we can do locally and regionally.

At the Kresge Foundation, we are thrilled to be able to support a wide range of community advocates working to improve climate resilience and health equity through our Climate Change, Health and Equity initiative. Many of the organizations supported through this five-year, $22 million initiative are achieving significant victories, including expand access to public transit, establishing a statewide clean energy standard and establish hubs of urban resilience.

Of course, we realize that Kresge support can only provide a small fraction of the resources frontline organizations need to advance the priorities of low-income communities of color who were first and most affected by climate threats.

Yet too many funders overlook grassroots organizations led by people of color: a report by Building Equity and Alignment for Environmental Justice found that in areas like the Midwest and the Southern Gulf, only about 1% of grants from the top 12 environmental funders went to local environmental justice organizations. In response, Kresge is one of 16 climate funders who have joined a pledge led by the Donors of Color network direct at least 30% of grants to BIPOC-led organizations.

However, this engagement is aimed primarily at climate funders, which omits a very large segment of the philanthropic landscape: health funders.

According to the latest field assessment from Grantmakers in Healththere are now 303 health conversion foundationswho collectively hold nearly $40 billion in assets across 44 states and the District of Columbia.

Despite the fact that climate change is a major threat to public health and no region of the country will be immune to its consequences, surprisingly few health foundations support climate justice work. A field assessment conducted by the Health and Environment Funders Network (HEFN) and Environmental Grantmakers of America (EGA) found a total of just $84 million in grants from 100 funders in climate-related health and equity initiatives, very little from health foundations.

Funding partners such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation support community efforts to improve climate resilience through its Health and Climate Solutions initiative. What would it take for more state, regional and local funders to recognize the impacts of climate change on health equity and racial justice, and to dedicate funds accordingly?

We invite all health funders who are considering supporting climate justice efforts in their regions to contact us, and we would love to chat. Together, we can support community aspirations for a more just, sustainable and healthy future.