Alberta Govt. Studying Foreign Funding Of Canadian Green Policies
The Alberta government announced this past a week a $2.5-million panel to study the influence of foreign funding on Canadian environmental policy issues.
Compared to the unprecedented planned spend of $4 billion by 29 U.S.-based philanthropic institutions over the next five years on climate philanthropy, this is a drop in the bucket.
Already, the critics are criticizing Alberta’s panel as a waste of money with unclear goals in mind. This doesn’t hold up.
It is about time Alberta put together an analysis on foreign funding so that it may develop appropriate policies to protect its own interests as owners of a valuable resource. Perhaps the panel might also dispel some notions that are currently in vogue.
While much press has been paid to Vivian Krause’s detailed look at foreign funding of environmental groups in Canada, the panel should also pay attention to philanthropic political influence in general.
Compared to total climate spending, U.S. foundations spend less than one percent of the US$410 billion expenditure on climate-related activities (climate-related technologies for businesses and governments, university research, advocacy and developing economy grants are by far larger).
Charities, however, can have an outsized influence on political debates over climate change, both on the left and right side of politics.
Bloomberg Philanthropies, for example, funded an event involving well-known international donors at the One Planet Summit in December 2017 that highlighted the importance of foundations in their primary role as advocates of climate-change actions alongside governments and NGOs.
Michael Bloomberg, now worth US$63 billion, has also shown that strategic funding can play an influential role in climate policy advocacy.
Through Bloomberg Philanthropies, he has funded the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University Law School that places lawyers in the offices of state attorneys-general to assist with “administrative, judicial or legislative matters involving clean energy, climate change and environmental interests of regional or national significance.”
The center reports biweekly to its founder on its influence, such as its role in Virginia’s attorney general’s office in choosing to advance the green-agenda interests of the donor. This in itself raises public policy concerns.
Bloomberg is not the first nor last philanthropist who is throwing money to counter Donald Trump’s anti-climate agenda.
In a well-documented 2018 paper written by Michael Nisbet, a professor of communications at Northeastern University, 19 foundations dispensed US$560 million in the years 2011-15 to support climate change and energy activities.
Almost a quarter of the funding was directed to promoting renewable energy and efficiency; 16 percent focused on climate mitigation and adaptation; 12.5 percent was spent on action to limit or oppose the fossil fuel industry.
Some of these organizations are well known from Krause’s work, including the Energy, Hewlett, McArthur, Rockefeller, Schmidt (founded by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy), and Moore (established by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore and his wife Betty) foundations.
Half of their funding has been directed to 20 groups including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and New Venture Fund.
Most interesting has been the shift in philanthropic funding leading to a concentration of power.
The Energy Foundation began a network of U.S. philanthropists in 1991 to press for state-level renewable standards but it was criticized for being too narrow and weak in promoting the climate policy.
After the publication of the Design to Win report in 2007, philanthropies become more strategic requiring tighter control over grantees and pooling of grants. In 2008, ClimateWorks was established to invest US$1 billion worldwide.
The focus was on carbon pricing, renewables and brokering an international climate agreement within a philosophy that “the market knows best.” Little though, was focused on technologies to reduce carbon such as nuclear energy or carbon capture and storage.
After the defeat of the cap-and-trade legislation in the U.S. Congress in 2009, a further shift in priorities took place amongst funders. More attention would be paid to grassroots mobilization by an emphasis on social-justice solutions and on climate change adaptation and resilience.
Centralized giving gave way to a more decentralized “spread betting” approach. This included Sierra Club campaigns to ban fracking in Pennsylvania and the 350.org rallying opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL.
Alberta, as well as Canada, should look at these trends with a mind to our public policy objectives. Philanthropies, for example, are governed by the whims of their billionaire donors, picking solutions that may not necessarily be the best ones to solve climate change issues.
Funding is concentrated in a few hands and can be discontinued abruptly, a complaint that has surfaced in recent years. Philanthropist funding at universities requiring grantees to toe a line can compromise investigative research.
Foreign influencers, whether climate philanthropists, fossil fuel companies, technology companies, unions or governments should not be using their money to influence voters to support a political party. Appropriate limitations should be placed on such advocacy.
Read rest at Financial Post