Private foundations pledge US$450 million to save forests, climate

Forests absorb a third of the annual planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced.
Forests absorb a third of the annual planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced.PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) - Leading philanthropists pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to rescue shrinking tropical forests that suck heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, on the eve of a global climate change summit in San Francisco.

Nine foundations announced the US$459 million (S$632 million) commitment, to be delivered over the next four years, a day ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit, which is expected to draw about 4,500 delegates from city and regional governments.

"While the world heats up, many of our governments have been slow to act. And so we in philanthropy must step up," Mr Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, told journalists at an event announcing the pledge.

The commitment roughly doubles the funds the groups currently dedicate to forest protection, said Mr David Kaimowitz, a director at the Ford Foundation, one of the donors.

Ms Charlotte Streck, director of Amsterdam-based think tank Climate Focus, said the size of the commitment makes the groups major players in supporting anti-deforestation programmes.

Norway has led donor efforts by pledging up to US$500 million a year to help tropical nations protect their forests, Ms Streck said.

But the new money committed by foundations could prove more"flexible and nimble" than money from governments, she said.


"The money that has been pledged by governments like Norway, Germany and the UK sits mostly in trust funds with the World Bank and the UN and it doesn't get out so quickly," she said.

Often "there is US$20,000 missing here or US$50,000 missing there, just to do one thing, develop one study, work with one person or have one consultation - and that the foundations can do."

Other groups that are part of the new initiative include the MacArthur Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation.

Funds will mostly assist indigenous people who are forest dwellers, said Mr Walker. It includes helping them secure titles to the land they live on so it cannot be sold to private companies without their agreement.

"Companies come to our village, our forests and say: 'You have to leave because I have the licence from the government'," said Ms Rukka Sombolinggi, who heads the Indonesia-based Indigenous People's Alliance of the Archipelago (Aman).

The world loses the equivalent of 50 soccer fields' worth of forest every minute, organisers said.

Yet forests absorb a third of the annual planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced and those emissions need to be slashed substantially more to meet the goals set in the Paris agreement.

The Paris climate agreement, adopted by almost 200 nations in 2015, set a goal of limiting warming to "well below" a rise of 2 deg C above pre-industrial times while"pursuing efforts" for the tougher goal of 1.5 deg C.

The three-day Global Climate Action Summit was organised by Californian authorities and the United Nations to support the leadership of mayors, governors and other sub-national authorities in curbing climate change.