CJRF Co-hosts “Building Coalitions for Climate Justice: A Funders’ Roundtable”

Pictured from left to right: Hilary Heath, Heather McGray, Mary Robinson, Agnes Leina, Heather Grady, and Anne Henshaw

Pictured from left to right: Hilary Heath, Heather McGray, Mary Robinson, Agnes Leina, Heather Grady, and Anne Henshaw

Together with Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice, Oak Foundation, and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the CJRF hosted a roundtable to bring together funders to explore climate justice as an emerging field of practice in philanthropy. The group met on September 20 on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York, hosted by Wellspring Advisors at their Manhattan office. Funders from over 20 different organizations attended the roundtable, representing a range of different interests and sectors, from water to energy, gender, indigenous rights, and more.

Heather McGray, Director of the CJRF, shared opening remarks that framed the issue of climate justice and set out objectives for the meeting. She also briefly shared the work the CJRF is doing to explore climate justice through grantmaking, and to strengthen its adaptation and resilience dimensions. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, provided keynote remarks. She described her experience as a global advocate for climate justice and introduced the Principles of Climate Justice developed by her foundation and their partners.

As inspiration for the roundtable participants, three grassroots activists spoke about their experiences working “on the front lines” of climate change. Selina Neirok Leem, a college student from the Marshall Islands, described her activism as a young leader, and shared a poem that clearly expressed the frustration and sense of loss – but also determination to take action– that she and many islanders feel as they grapple with sea level rise. Austin Ahmasuk, the Marine Advocate for Kawerak, Alaska, shared his experience with the rapidly warming climate in Alaska, including the profound changes that warming presents for indigenous communities such as his own.  Lastly, Agnes Leina, from Illaramatak Community Concerns in Kenya, voiced the power of local grassroots activism and the importance of environmental justice and land rights for pastoralist communities. In listening to the voices of those on the frontlines, funders were able to gain a better understanding of the value of climate justice and the importance of a human-centered approach to climate change adaptation.

Funders assembled at the roundtable shared the work they were already doing which intersects – or could potentially intersect -- with climate justice. Human rights were a theme that cut across much of the conversation. Specific issues discussed included: indigenous rights, climate displacement and relocation, land and natural resources, capacity building for front-line NGOs, the role of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and promoting women’s leadership.

The CJRF roundtable was a unique opportunity to bring together the funding community and those on the frontlines of climate change. It created a starting point from which CJRF seeks to build an on-going dialogue among funders.  We are now working with our partners to identify specific topics for additional discussion, and plan to hold at least two additional funder events in the coming year.