Climate change for charity leaders outside the environmental sector

Jake Hayman, CEO of Ten Years’ Time, urges civil society leaders to respond to the climate crisis and shares actionable ideas to join the fight against climate change.

Whether or not your charity has a box ticked in its memorandum and articles saying that you have a specific focus on the prevention of climate change, the current global emergency is relevant for every charity, just as it is relevant to every individual, every leader and every employer.

If you are an VONNE member then you are an organisation in one of the most trusted sectors we have. That comes with a duty to be aware of things beyond our direct line of sight. When every scientist you can find says that we need to act, that is a call for you to lead and your organisation to act.

On top of that, there are four key other reasons why this should be a focus area for all charities:

  1. It’s important to young people. Ask your younger staff what they think and they will say that they want you to take action. They are deeply anxious about their futures and deeply uncomfortable that we are not doing enough. Be their partners in this.
  2. Climate change is critical to every issue. Whoever or whatever it is that your organisation cares about and focuses on, this issue is critical to them. From the flooding of heritage properties to the deaths of homeless people in extreme weather, from women’s rights to elderly isolation this is a part of all our stories and we all need to respond. This is not about changing your articles to become a ‘climate charity’ but appreciating that climate change is a critical issue to every charity and therefore well within your legal rights and moral responsibility to act. If you want to build your case for this internally, please read this publication (shared a few weeks ago by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation CEO Caroline Mason).
  3. There is a mandate. There are children protesting on the streets because adults have failed them. It’s time to step up and protect them.
  4. Civil society should be amplifying community voices. We have to respond to the threat of climate change, and the worse things get the stronger the response needed. If charities who care about justice and equity, poverty and inequality stay out of this conversation then the changes that take place will take place without the voices of their communities. The transition to a low carbon economy is an opportunity to fundamentally re-balance our society and if we don’t take it, it’ll end up hurting the poorest most, even though their carbon footprint is the smallest.

It’s time for every charity to respond to the urgency. Here’s a seven-step guide to how you can do that:

  1. Declare a climate emergency: call a joint staff-trustee meeting to discuss climate change, share a briefing on the science and discuss what it could mean for your work and the communities you serve. Consult your communities if you need to. If you are prepared to act then tell your world. Use your website and other communications channels to declare that you recognise that there is a climate emergency, and that you are looking at how best you can respond and that we all need to act.
  2. Find and use your climate voice: use 20% of your communications space to raise awareness about different organisations directly working to prevent climate collapse and encourage engagement with them. Whether it’s one in five tweets highlighting climate change work or a fifth of every newsletter you send linking to campaigns and petitions, find your climate voice. Start with the Climate Coalition for content. And if you want to progress to more grassroots climate justice organisations, Friends of the EarthGreenpeaceClient Earth, the UK Student Climate Network or Extinction Rebellion are among the groups that need your voice the most.
  3. Pay your climate emergency tax: the climate movement receives less than 1% of UK philanthropy and it is totally and utterly starved for moneyIf you can, put 1% of your income aside as a ‘voluntary tax’ to help fight climate change. You can either give it to a pooled fund or pick a partner (such as one of those above). I know many of our organisations and causes are starved for money as well, but this is an investment in your mission not outside of it.
  4. Follow the BBC guide: this helpful guide says that you should go renewable with your energy, go vegan in your office (start veggie if you need to) and at your events and look up the OneHome website for more ideas on how to decarbonise your world.
  5. Pay your air tax: put aside just as much as you spend on every flight to support afforestation programmes. If that motivates you to take fewer flights, great news.
  6. Use your money: whether you have £100m in the bank or just a small staff pension pot, that money will be doing one of two things – either supporting a carbon-intensive economy that will harm those people you exist to serve or financing an alternative. Call your pension fund providers and/or wealth managers, and ask them to align your money with a just transition to a low-carbon economy. If they don’t know what you are talking about, fire them and find some that do.
  7. Push your funders: ask for a carbon contribution of 1% on all new applications you put into funders to show them your commitment and encourage them to be partners in this.

We have to accept that in our concentrated service to our demanding work, and the everyday strains of our economy and our politics, we have let ourselves exist in collective denial about the climate crisis. Sector conference after sector conference is going ahead with barely a mention of what is going on in the world.

So, first steps first. Share this note at your next team meeting and at your next board meeting and when people start to pick holes in the details and demand the maths for how you ‘justify this or that’, then ask them this one question: ‘if we exist to serve public benefit and our public itself is under such grave threat, what better solutions do we have than those listed here?’

If you have better, bolder or scientifically more useful things you want to do, then share them here. In the meantime, don’t let others use the imperfection of the suggestions above as an excuse for inaction and continued denial. We have to make a start. Now.

This blog was written for ACEVO in April 2019 and replicated here with permission from the author Jake Hayman.