McKnight to Join International Battle on Climate Change
March 19, 2009, Star Tribune — The McKnight Foundation is announcing today that it will spend an unprecedented $100 million over the next five years to attack global warming worldwide.
The state's largest private foundation, McKnight is joining forces with other large U.S. foundations, including the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, in pledging more than $1 billion to prevent climate change.
McKnight's President Kate Wolford said the highly coordinated strategy among foundations is unique, but that's what is needed.
She called climate change an "extraordinary challenge" that must be addressed within the next decade to prevent irrevocable harm to the planet. "Without immediate action, climate change will put at risk all those served by our programs," she said.
In 2008 the foundation provided $99 million from its $1.6 billion endowment for a variety of programs, including the arts, housing, children and families, sustainable agriculture and the environment. About 70 percent of McKnight grants in 2008 went to Minnesota organizations.
Wolford said the foundation will distribute the same amount of money in 2009. However, some programs will receive smaller grants because McKnight focuses $20 million annually on climate change. The change represents a dramatic "ramping up" internationally of programs originally developed in the Midwest, she said. The foundation is not seeking applications from those who might desire grants; it has committed most of the money to two foundations working on climate change policy and strategy.
About $5 million a year is going to the Energy Foundation, a grant-maker that has received McKnight money to develop renewable and sustainable energy policies in the Midwest that do not rely on coal and other fossil fuels.
Much of the rest will go to the new ClimateWorks Foundation, which has coalitions in several countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions. ClimateWorks is a network of international philanthropists, policy and clean technology experts. Their goals are to stop building new sources of carbon emissions, to promote a carbon cap and trade system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., and to help establish an international system to reduce global warming gases.
"It definitely is not about sending American experts overseas," said Energy Foundation president Eric Heitz. "It recognizes that the problem is international and that the best minds of the U.S. and China and India and Europe and other places have to work on it," he said. That includes pooling international expertise so that countries can develop their own strategic plans, he said. Those could include policies that encourage energy conservation, more efficient appliances, cleaner fuels, preservation of tropical forests, and renewable energy requirements for utilities that sell electricity.
Michael Noble, executive director for St. Paul-based Fresh Energy, said that McKnight has realized that global warming is an overarching problem that jeopardizes goals that the foundation's programs have funded for decades: housing and health, water quality, natural resources, and health of ecosystems.
"Even though a lot of attention is rightfully focused on how we can get our economy straightened out, the solutions have to be low-carbon, clean energy, and innovative solutions that we can grow our economy without damaging the environment," Noble said. Fresh Energy receives about 20 percent of its budget from McKnight grants.
Wolford said that the scale of the commitments is what is needed to prompt action on multiple fronts for an urgent problem. "It's not only the right thing to invest in, but now is exactly the time when we should make this commitment," she said.