Democracy Alliance Blog / April 20, 2016

2020 Funds Update: The Climate Fund

By DA Managing Director Julie Kohler and Senior Strategy & Planning Officer for Climate Roger Kim

Last week, the New York Times reported that new models are predicting that the West Antarctic ice sheet could disintegrate within decades, causing sea levels to rise by six feet by 2100, drowning coastlines and destroying major cities such as New York, Miami, New Orleans, London, Venice, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney. Yet in the face of such dire predictions – and the first-hand effects of climate disruption already being experienced in communities around the globe – the U.S.’s policy response remains woefully inadequate, stymied by the Right’s powerful and entrenched economic, ideological, and political interests.

The People’s Climate March, the Divest/Invest campaign, and last year’s Keystone Pipeline victory all demonstrate that people are ready and willing to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and take action in order to save our planet and protect our communities. But we must do more, especially with the frontline communities whose lives and livelihoods depend on the development of clean energy solutions that strengthen the economy and create jobs. Congressional inaction only heightens the need for stronger boots on the ground, as we must wage the local and state fights that can model innovation and know-how, build momentum for federal and international action, and hold politicians accountable.

So the DA’s Climate Fund got to work. We began by surveying the landscape to determine the states in which we could have the greatest impact and the groups that were best poised to lead this work. What we found was no shortage of opportunity – in DA priority states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, there is much to be done to reduce greenhouse gases while enabling low-income Americans to gain the benefits from the transition to a modernized, healthier, efficient, and equitable economy. Nor was there a shortage of interest in this work – in each of the states we visited, we found a number of experienced organizing groups with a strong base in the New American Majority, who know how to register and turn out voters and win issue advocacy campaigns.

The DA’s Climate Fund is designed to fill this important and exciting niche. We invest in groups who are responding to the growing demand in New American Majority communities to work on climate change issues because of local concerns about the health, environmental, and economic well-being of their communities and the planet. The groups are adding a climate lens to their political organizing, and launching new campaigns around the Clean Power Plan, increasing access to renewable energy and creating greater public funding for mitigation and adaptation efforts for impacted communities.

The fund’s first round of grants, totaling just shy of $1M, will be finalized within the next few weeks and are an important first step at building the independent political power needed to win meaningful electoral and policy victories in this strategic set of states. For example, groups are leveraging the 2016 elections to engage voters on climate change and build their base of supporters to plug into exciting climate and clean energy campaigns. We’re enthusiastic about the potential of this early work and look forward to seeing how the fund’s support helps organizations mobilize their diverse grassroots constituencies.

Yet we’re also thinking bigger – about what DA priority states need to be added and the capacity that needs to be built over the long term in order to win and keep winning. Many of the organizations that will lead these campaigns need additional support in developing the policy expertise necessary to put together top-notch campaigns, either in-house or through partnerships with other groups. And once we have a cohort of grantees running active campaigns, we must develop a plan for facilitating stronger cross-state collaboration, in order to build real political muscle and generate national attention. We believe the Climate Fund will help grow and broaden the base of supporters and voters on climate change necessary to win meaningful policy solutions at the local and state, and eventually national, levels.

Over the next couple of months, we’ll outline what the fund looks like at scale and the permanent state infrastructure necessary to tilt the balance of power away from the extraction industry and the politicians who do its bidding to the vast majority of Americans who want a clean economy and a sustainable planet. A few allied funders are considering investments at the multi-million dollar levels – levels that would establish the Climate Fund as a true center of gravity in the space. We hope you will join us, for the fund will truly flourish when it becomes the nexus of funding in the space – the place where individual and institutional funders come together to build political will on this critically important issue.