Philanthropists have been put in the spotlight at this year’s World Economic Forum meeting over their failure to invest enough in tackling climate change.
The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting being held in Davos this week has produced some big pledges and passionate calls for capital mobilisation to tackle climate change, improve healthcare services to the underserved and boost economic development. The extent to which these will be translated into concrete action remains to be seen.
Perhaps the most notable initiative from an impact investment perspective has been the launch of ‘Giving to Amplify Earth Action (GAEA)’, which aims to leverage philanthropic capital to help generate $3 trillion estimated to be needed each year from public and private sources to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.
The idea is to expand new and existing public, private and philanthropic partnerships (PPPPs) to reach net zero emissions, reverse nature loss and restore biodiversity by 2050. There seems to be plenty of untapped potential: Climateworks Foundation estimates that just 2% of an estimated total of $810bn of philanthropic giving went towards climate change mitigation in 2021.
The GAEA initiative has amassed more than 45 partners from the philanthropic, public and private sectors. Among the high-profile philanthropic names involved are the Bezos Earth Fund, IKEA Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the United Nations Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.
Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, described the initiative as a “massive opportunity” to leverage philanthropic giving for climate action. “Philanthropies can play a unique role in encouraging urgent, radical and unprecedented collaboration between the public and private sectors. It’s only by working together at scale that we can unlock the investment required to achieve our ambitious climate goals and protect the planet,” he said.
The plan is to bring leaders from the public, private and philanthropic sectors together to “identify and target” climate and nature solutions where they are best positioned to play a “catalytic role”, to develop funding models that can support PPPP interventions, and to “replicate successful approaches to new sectors, regions and actors”.
On the latter, WEF cites the example of Clean Cooling Collaborative, an initiative launched in 2016, and initially backed by $10m of philanthropic funding, which says it has mobilised more than $600m in public and private finance to improve access to low-carbon cooling. The blue bond launched by the Seychelles to finance marine conservation is also cited as a template.
Healthcare and digital inclusion
Another ambitious pledge was forthcoming for healthcare, though not with a fund-raising target attached. The WEF’s Global Health Equity Network Zero Health Gaps Pledge, signed by around 40 organisations at Davos, is a commitment to take concerted action to improve equity in health globally. It features a series of commitments for signatories to “embed health equity principles throughout their operations, workforce and guiding philosophies”.
Meanwhile, the Edison Alliance, a WEF-backed digital inclusion initiative launched in January 2021, reported it was almost halfway to achieving its mission of bringing 1 billion people online by 2025 for better access to healthcare, education and financial services. It claimed more than 454m lives in 90 countries had been improved through “new adoption of a digital service” between its launch and October 2022.
A number of successful digital inclusion initiatives have been launched under the alliance, which includes founding members Verizon, Apollo Hospitals, Mastercard, Vista Equity Partners, the Rwandan government and UNDP, plus other global businesses, ministers, international organisations, civil society and academic institutions.
The WEF has also been supporting efforts to create the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). A report, AfCFTA: A New Era for Global Business and Investment in Africa, launched at Davos, highlights investment opportunities in Africa’s automotive, agriculture and agro-processing, pharmaceuticals, and transport and logistics sectors, both in terms of commercial prospects and impact. AfCFTA says the four sectors, estimated to have a combined worth of $130bn, represent high-potential opportunities for companies looking to invest in Africa.
As ever, there has been no shortage of pressure groups eager to release eye-catching data to coincide with the meeting, largely to call out big business convening at Davos for falling short on turning pledges into meaningful action.
Reclaim Finance and a group of environmental NGOs say their research shows banks, asset owners and asset managers within the alliances that make up the ‘Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ)’ continue to pour “hundreds of billions of dollars” into the expansion of the coal, oil and fossil gas industries, despite their net zero pledges. The NGOs say that, according to Reclaim Finance’s methodology, only one of the 161 GFANZ members covered “has a robust policy ending support to oil and gas companies developing new supply projects”, and that only 61 have a policy that excludes some support for companies developing some types of new coal projects. GFANZ’s supporters say that while the alliance has its flaws it is still facilitating efforts to reach net zero.
Efforts by heavy polluters to use carbon offsets as a quick fix, as they struggle to bring greenhouse gas emissions down, have also come under fire. Research published on January 18 by non-profit Source Material, with The Guardian and Die Zeit newspapers, concludes that over 90% of rainforest carbon offsets by Verra, the largest crediting programme in the $2bn voluntary offsets market, are “largely worthless”, and may even global warming worse. Verra vehemently disputes the findings and the methodology used.