As the country discusses building back better following the Covid-19 pandemic, addressing climate change is one of the key topics on the table. At a time of rising unemployment and food banks seeing heightened demand, what does the climate crisis mean for charities?
NPC recently convened a roundtable event on this topic, and our discussions explored how climate change is a risk to the missions of all charities and funders. However, there is a need to bridge the gap between long-term challenges and short-term needs that have been made worse by Covid-19.
A universal threat
As a result of climate change, over the coming decades we are likely to see reduced food security, greater migration and displacement, disruption to education and employment, increased poverty, and the increased prevalence of zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19. These are the effects of rising sea levels, floods, heatwaves, water shortages and how we engage with our natural environment. These challenges will affect all charities and funders regardless of their mission, much like we have seen with all charities being affected by Covid-19.
As Karla Hill, environmental lawyer and former Global Programmes Counsel at ClientEarth, said, ‘climate change is a social justice issue … the impact of climate change will be felt most strongly by the most vulnerable in society. As with coronavirus, yes, we are all affected but we are not all affected equally.’
The sector must acknowledge and act upon what climate change means for our organisations and the people we exist to serve.
End of the world risks versus end of the month challenges
Dhara Vyas, Head of Future Energy Services at Citizens Advice, spoke of those we exist to serve when she said that, ‘people across the country are struggling with a lot right now … [and] the climate crisis is not at the top of everybody’s agenda … understandably, if you can’t afford to top up your pre-payment metre, climate change will not be high up your agenda.’
This example represents the tension between issues in the immediate term and issues in the longer term. A tension which is a longstanding and difficult to navigate for those in the environmental movement. Danielle Paffard, Head of Organising at Green New Deal UK, and a coordinator of the Build Back Better coronavirus recovery campaign, asked, ‘we have known about the climate crisis for a long time and have had limited success in mobilising around this end of the world problem … how do we really successfully bridge end of the world and end of the month problems?’
Responding to the climate crisis
For Danielle and many others, the answer lies in shared need, ‘the climate crisis is an inequality crisis … they need to be tackled together and holistically.’ So, here are four recommendations from our roundtable discussions on how to respond to the climate crisis alongside immediate need, bridging the gap between long-term challenges and existing inequalities.
- Recognise that climate change is a risk to your mission
The first step, is acknowledging the severity of the problem. Save the Children have taken this step and recognised that climate change cuts cross children’s rights, health, education, and protection. Kirsty McNeill, Executive Director for Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at Save the Children, explained her organisation’s mindset shift from ‘thinking about this as just another topic, to thinking about this as an existential threat to our mission.’
- Embed climate related issues into your existing work
The pressure on household bills and budgets is phenomenal right now and it is likely to get worse. For many, climate change will not be high on the agenda. However, as Dhara said, embedding climate change in your work ‘doesn’t have to be through the language and lens of climate change … we could just talk about making sure you have a bit more money because you’re spending less on [heating] a really leaky home.’
- Amplify and integrate the voices of those affected
Social charities and funders have a role to play in ensuring that the needs and concerns of affected communities are heard by policymakers and decision-makers. As with everything social charities support, user involvement is essential. Those who are active in particular communities will have a critical contribution to make given the expertise and relationships they already hold. Charities should listen to expertise on the ground and build on existing networks. Everyone should help shape a greener and fairer future if we are to leave no community behind.
As Kirsty highlighted, ‘the climate movement can’t fix this for themselves, because if they could it would have happened already … we need to bring environmentalism to our work but we also need to bring our work to environmentalism.’ Social and environmental charities must increase collaboration in order to build back better. Funders can support this by resourcing collaboration and improving the use of data and insights, for example overlaying data from different parts of the sector to better understand what is known about vulnerabilities in different communities.
The time for social charities to actively engage with climate related issues is now, particularly, we must engage with and be a part of a green and just recovery, as advocated by the Climate Coalition and the Build Back Better coronavirus recovery campaign and others. Climate change is going to affect every issue we work on, we must now bridge the gap between long-term challenges and short-term needs before they collide catastrophically and in ways we can’t predict.