Charities and the climate change challenge

  • With the urgency of climate change action a focus, third sector organisations are embracing environmental sustainability and the human cost of climate change
  • Charities have a central purpose to operate in a socially responsible way, which includes climate action and provides opportunity to add social value to contracts
  • Zurich Municipal’s recent whitepaper explores the climate change challenges and opportunities facing voluntary sector organisations

At Davos in January this year, Borge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, said: “The last five years have been the hottest on the planet. Climate change, loss of biodiversity and water scarcity are major long-term risks. We have to change our approach – the cost of inaction far exceeds the cost of action.”

Large and small third sector organisations are embracing environmental sustainability, with the urgency of climate change action a focus. Some charities are climate action lobbyists and influencers, representing people, animals and environments impacted severely by global heating, while others incorporate climate change action and resilience into their business models and everyday operations.

Charity action

The Climate Coalition is the UK’s largest group of people dedicated to action on climate change and limiting its impact around the world. The coalition now comprises over 140 organisations with a combined supporter base of 22 million, led by charities including WWF, National Trust, RSPB, Christian Aid, CAFOD, The Women’s Institute, and Oxfam.

The National Trust is an important force for change, both in its influence on policy, but also in the exemplary way it is reducing its carbon footprint and manages its land and buildings. The National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds for example, are working with the Department for Environment on a new land management strategy.

Some of the National Trust’s pledges include stretching targets: Creating 25,000 hectares of new wildlife habitats in the next five years, and establishing 18,000 hectares of new woodland of more than 20 million trees in the next ten years, when it also aims to become carbon zero.

An almost immediate target for the National Trust to reach is producing half of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2021. This includes an extensive programme of retro-fitting buildings with heat pump energy. For example, the ground source heat pump at Wimpole in Cambridgeshire has reduced the estate’s carbon emissions by 47,000 tonnes a year, saving more than £8,000 in annual fuel costs.

Although many charities cannot plant millions of trees, they can buy in renewable energy only, convert fleets to all electric vehicles and set target dates to become carbon neutral.

Other large charities taking action now are focusing on the human cost of climate change. Oxfam International, Barnardos and Save the Children understand how it will affect the lives of individuals globally. Research has shown that it is the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society whose lives will be impacted the most. Many other charities and voluntary groups work locally in smaller but important ways to help communities mitigate and adapt to climate change, and support biodiversity.

Community and local action groups are usually set up for a particular purpose and often it is to protect local environments, like litter picking or working with wildlife trusts on conservation projects. For example, one allotment management group have taken an in-depth approach to how the allotments are managed to encourage biodiversity and wildlife conservation, keep down carbon emissions and mitigate against climate change risk. Simple actions like fertiliser and pesticide use and a no-till soil plan can make a real difference.

“Charities and voluntary groups can play an important role in bringing specialist expertise and insight to policy-makers and place-shapers,” says Gordon Wilmott, Head of Charities and Social Organisations for Zurich Municipal. “They can also act as exemplars of resilience and sustainability in commissioned roles.”

Contractor choices

Climate change has moved up everyone’s risk ranking, and even if it is not central to a charity’s core mission, to be climate compliant is necessary for financial viability and to protect reputation. Organisations delivering services to the public sector are likely to have climate change credentials scrutinised by commissioners and service users. All suppliers should be socially responsible.

Charities have a central purpose to operate in a socially responsible way, which includes climate action and provides opportunity to add social value to contracts. Although it remains discretionary for local government procurement, many councils are committing to social value targets on new contracts and climate change mitigation and adaptation is a priority.

How can we help?

Zurich Municipal’s recent whitepaper, The Climate Change Challenge, explores the climate change challenges and opportunities facing public and voluntary sector organisations, and how the risks involved in making this transition can be managed.