Philanthropy, the climate crisis and COP27 – a perspective from the Arab region

Oct 31, 2022 | Philanthropy

Cover photo from Omar Chatriwala

By Naila Farouky – CEO, Arab Foundations Forum

I am not a climate expert by any stretch of the imagination, and up until 5 years ago, I hadn’t really given much thought to the climate crisis in my professional capacity. However, as a representative of the Arab Region’s only network and membership association of philanthropy and civil society actors, I have become engaged in the conversation around climate as much by accident as by necessity.

I think it’s important to acknowledge, first and foremost, that the issues around climate haven’t necessarily been at the top of the agenda of the NGO and CSO sectors in the Arab region. In 2017, when I was first introduced to the climate conversation by the Foundations20 Team (F20), I was surprised to discover that the engagement by the Arab Region’s development and philanthropy sectors was very low. This is not to say that there isn’t any attention being paid to the climate crisis by the sector, but that it isn’t organised in a meaningful way to affect any significant impact by the sector.

Since the announcement of the regional host cities for COP27 and COP28, this has changed. However, last October, when the Arab Foundations Forum was contacted to meet with the COP26 UN High-Level Champion for Climate, Nigel Topping, and to host him and his team in Cairo for a briefing session around the key civil society actors leading the charge on climate in the region, we couldn’t find a local, regional philanthropy actor whose strategic priority focused on climate. Of my members, many of which are the region’s largest donors, not a single regional member had placed the climate-focused SDGs at the top of their list of strategic priorities.

With COP27 and 28 fast approaching, we are determined to change this, and the ever-increasing level of crisis is more than enough of an impetus to change this. Part of our responsibility as a network is to help contextualise the discussion around climate, the race to net zero, and the crisis in which we globally find ourselves, from the perspective of the Arab Region CSO and NGO sectors.

We hope to do this by, first, serving as co-convening and co-hosting partners with a group of philanthropy actors at several side events at COP. With international partners who are experts in this field, we intend to provide a space where our network can engage on the issues surrounding the climate crisis, and where we hope that engagement will lead to collaborations and partnerships within the region’s philanthropy actors in a more purposeful way moving forward.

We have also been engaging with partners globally who are taking the lead in engaging philanthropy’s response to the climate crisis. Partners like WINGS, who have launched a Philanthropy for Climate Working Group, of which we are members on behalf of our network. We have also participated in roundtable discussions at the invitation of the Climate Emergency Collaboration Group with COP27’s UN High-Level Champion for Climate, as well as with several Egyptian Ministers to represent the Arab Region’s philanthropy sector in the discussions leading up to COP27. My hope is that these steps will allow us to effectively represent the sector in a way that allows for future collaboration and strategic funding for this crisis.

Obviously, the impact of the climate crisis, and the race to net zero as one of the solutions, cannot be overstated. Last month, there were 33 million people in Pakistan – almost 90% of the entire population of Australia, for reference – without homes due specifically to the climate crisis. Worldwide, we’ve been seeing historic, record-breaking heat waves, devastating fires, destruction of agrarian land, and devastating loss of livelihood for small farmers worldwide. It isn’t a question of whether the philanthropy sector has a role to play in mitigating these challenges; it’s a question of when, and even then, it’s a question of what are we waiting for?

I’ve been thinking of ways to engage my network around these issues and how to convey the magnitude of the problem, without scaring people away from talking about it. As I’ve become more and more educated about the issues, I’ve found that everything is related to the climate crisis! Any issue that is top of the agenda for any member in my network is, actually, directly related to climate. Education? Yes, climate. Mental Health? Absolutely, yes. Current1 and future pandemics? Yes, there’s a link between the climate crisis and the advent of new viruses with devastating consequences2. Honestly, there isn’t a single issue you can think of that isn’t, somehow, linked to the climate crisis. So, to that end, it is imperative for our sector to strategically reconsider its priorities –within the framework of their existing priorities, not in place of – and include funding and long-term investments in combatting the climate crisis.

I’m always sure to remind people, when I talk about the Arab Region, that the 22 countries of the region make up approximately 10% of the world’s countries, with approximately 400 million people, almost 50% of whom are under the age of 25. So, this region is bursting with a large population that is set to inherit this crisis. We also happen to have some of the highest rates of unemployment in the world in our youth population. One of the key recommendations we intend to make to our network is that the investment in youth’s role in climate issues is key, and one of the ways we can successfully affect impact.

Finally, I will end by saying that the opportunity to represent the philanthropy sector at the upcoming COP is one we take seriously and are grateful for. My hope is that we will be able to catalyse critical conversations within our network and that this will, in turn, increase engagement and collaboration by the sector on addressing this issue.


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