How Philanthropy Can Test Innovative Ideas for Climate Change | The New York Community Trust
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March 2, 2020   |   By The New York Community Trust
How Philanthropy Can Test Innovative Ideas for Climate Change

Representatives from foundations, nonprofits, academia, and governments came together in San Juan, Puerto Rico in late February to sign on to the Climate Strong Islands Declaration, an effort supported with Trust grants. Standing behind op-ed co-authors Deanna James and Nelson Colón, director of the San Juan Estuary Program Brenda Torres answers questions from the press.

The following op-ed was written by Nelson I. Colón Tarrats, Arturo Garcia-Costas, Deanna J. James, and Dawn Shirreffs and published on 3/2/2020 in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Reposted with permission of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

If the world’s richest man and its largest asset-management firm are on the same page when it comes to combating climate change, there may be hope for our collective future — particularly for those of us who live on vulnerable islands, which are on the front lines of this evolving catastrophe.

Jeff Bezos’ $10 billion pledge to fight climate change and the January announcement by the investment firm BlackRock to place environmental sustainability at the heart of its strategy are signals that it is not business as usual anymore.

Grant makers gave an estimated $1.8 billion for climate and energy work in 2017 — so a $10 billion infusion is very significant. But it is not, by itself, a game changer. Estimates are that it will take an annual $100 billion by the United States to meet the Paris climate-accord targets. And think about this figure for more perspective: The economic damage from Hurricanes Maria and Sandy were each more than $90 billion — a sign of what the new normal may cost.

We can, however, potentially increase the bang for our research buck by pursuing innovative pilot projects on islands, which are discrete, smaller scale, and already poised on the forefront of the effects of climate change.

Communities living on islands can lead the way into the new climate economy, but only if government, philanthropy, and business recognize how quickly transformative change can take place on islands.

The climate crisis has brought devastating extreme-weather events, rising seas, economic disruptions, and health threats to islands. In the United States, the most vulnerable island communities are often overlooked, neglected, and marginalized. For example:

  • Postdisaster recovery assistance for many islands has been impeded by politics, institutional foot dragging, and ideological posturing.
  • Small or isolated island communities often have few health care providers and services — and those that exist are chronically underfunded.
  • The devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina, Maria, and Harvey created high rates of homelessness and forced relocation.

While these islands have contributed little to the causes of climate change when compared with their mainland neighbors, they are experiencing a disproportionate share of the devastating results.

With focused resources, island communities are well positioned to test innovative solutions to sustainability — as well as climate mitigation and adaptation. They can pioneer nature-based solutions to prevent coastal erosion in the face of rising sea levels and intensifying storms. With investments in sustainable energy — as well as sustainable transportation and telecommunications technology — they can build stronger economies.

We already see this taking place in places like Puerto Rico, where philanthropy is working closely with government agencies and business to build solar microgrids to power previously isolated communities.

Now, we must work to expand efforts that are already achieving promising results and to focus on helping those who are facing the most pressing threats.

Last week more than 70 organizations issued the Climate Strong Islands Declaration, which calls for foundations, government agencies, corporations, and others to support efforts to make islands more sustainable, self-sufficient, and resilient.

This declaration calls for organizations to collaborate with people on the islands to develop new efforts that help them respond effectively to the growing climate crisis.

We are at a critical time in the effort to stabilize the climate system — and island communities can and should play a more prominent role. Their distinctive characteristics make them well suited to serve as proving grounds for the kinds of systemic changes needed to put our planet on a more
sustainable path.

We welcome Jeff Bezos and BlackRock to the fight and hope their declarations become a rallying cry to all about a coming catastrophe that has already arrived for those of us who live on islands.

Nelson I. Colón Tarrats is chief executive officer of Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico.

Arturo Garcia-Costas is program officer, local, national, and international environment, for The New York Community Trust.

Deanna J. James is president of the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development.

Dawn Shirreffs is senior director of public affairs at the Miami Foundation.

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Need help or advice?

Marty Lipp
Communications Director
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Assistant Director for Digital Media and Marketing
(917) 847-4992
aw@nyct-cfi.org

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