Design to Win: Philanthropy's Role in the Fight Against Global Warming

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Design to Win: Philanthropy's Role in the Fight Against Global Warming is a reported which examines the role of philanthropy in the fight against global warming. It was conducted by California Environmental Associates and aimed at creating a framework to guide future foundation investment to fight global warming.[1]

Current and future funding

For the Design to Win report, the authors interviewed officials from 28 predominantly U.S. foundations that were active in funding global warming-related programs. Based on this the authors concluded that "philanthropy is now devoting about $210 million an annually toward the fight against global warming. By comparison, U.S. philanthropy devoted $3.2 billion to health, $3.1 billion to education and $1.5 billion to the arts in 2004, according to the Giving USA Foundation." The authors also noted that this figure was conservative as they hadn't included philanthropic spending on projects such as those aimed at reducing deforestation or "other drivers of climate change".[1] However, the report does not detail which foundations were contacted. Nor does the report provide any detailed breakdown on what programs are currently funded by foundations.

In one table, CEA estimated that the current annual philanthropic funding aimed at minimizing the need for coal was $15 million and proposed that the estimated annual additional amount needed was only $5-10 million. CEA also note that currently no foundation funding is spent on carbon capture and storage but proposed that between $30 and $40 million a year be devoted in this area. In comparison, CEA propose that an addition $30-40 million be spent on promoting improved vehicle efficiency and advocating polices aimed at ensuring the retrofitting of existing buildings and accelerating appliance turnover.[2]

The Report's Analysis

The report's authors adopted a target of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions at 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide. While acknowledging that the global community needs to prevent 30 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions being emitted by 2030, the report zeros in on areas where 11 gigatons of emissions could be averted. The authors frame their proposals around aiming to prevent a "lock-in" of emissions from "new coal-fired power plants, long-lived industrial infrastructure, inefficient buildings, car-centric cities, and irreversible deforestation."

They also argue that philanthropic efforts should concentrate on targeting their efforts in achieving reductions in projected carbon emissions on the U.S., the European Union, China and India and countering tropical deforestation in the Amazon, the Congo and Indonesia. The report stresses that policy reform will be necessary in achieving changes after the introduction of an emissions trading scheme to address areas where reductions aren't taken up even where they are profitable and for where "more than 30 percent of essential mitigations will be more expensive than the likely carbon price."[3]

In selecting which options foundations should fund, the report proposed that the first obvious choices are in helping overcome the barriers to the implementation of the relatively cheap or profitable efficiency gains. The next most expensive set of options -- which the report refers to as "mid-priced efficiency improvements" -- should not be funded by foundations "since they will become cost-effective once a carbon price is adopted". Most controversially, the report proposes foundations direct scarce funds to helping the most expensive options -- such as carbon capture and storage -- become more viable. "Philanthropy can help lower these costs by working with businesses, governments, academics and others to develop policies that spur significant new markets and spread knowledge," they claim.[4]

The Report's Proposed Strategy

The report authors concluded that "additional funding of approximately $600 million is needed an annually to implement the Design to Win priorities" which they identified as:

These include:

  • "Carbon policy advocacy and supportive analysis in the U.S. and around the globe
  • Sustained investment to build vibrant markets for renewables to replace coal, particularly in China and India
  • CCS Carbon Capture and Storage deployment to mitigate emissions from coal-fired power plants, particularly in the U.S., China, and India
  • Influencing the built environment: energy efficiency of buildings and appliances, development patterns, transportation infrastructure
  • Emissions mitigation in the industrial sector, particularly in the U.S., China, and India
  • Greater support for strategy implementation in India, where efforts are underway but with little private, philanthropic backing".[1]

The report passingly proposes -- in a sections title 'Dethroning King Coal' -- that philanthropic funding should be directed in part to "building coalitions to oppose new coal-fired plants and promoting utility reform that requires purchases of renewable energy and stepped-up efficiency."[1]However, the report does not details whether any funding is currently directed to grassroots groups opposing new power plant projects or how this should be done.

While in one section the report states that "reducing emissions from power generation will require ... expanded nuclear power", they later suggest that foundations should promote wind and solar and avoid "considering the polarizing option of nuclear energy". Implicitly though, they discount nuclear power only because it is "polarizing" but not because of the high costs, the associated risks, the limited mitigation potential within the foreseeable future.

Perhaps the single most controversial recommendation of the report is its enthusiastic embrace of the as yet unproven and expensive option of promoting carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Why Carbon Capture and Storage?

The report claims that "even under the most optimistic of scenarios, renewables won't be able to displace enough coal-fired power generation to avert warming of more than 2 degrees".[5] It also acknowledges that retrofitting existing plants for CCS will be "cost prohibitive".[6] Later on the report argues that while new renewable energy sources "deserve continued, generous support from philanthropy" it was pessimistic that the effort to counter global warming "could be lost if we haven't cleaned up the new coal plants that are bound to appear - especially in China and India." To avoid this, the report argues, "future coal-fired generating stations must be built to capture and sequester their greenhouse gas emissions."[7]

While acknowledging that there were limited "at scale" CCS projects, CEA proposed that "philanthropists must get CCS over the hump and make it practical for deployment in the U.S., China and India within th the next decade." Perhaps anticipating the financial collapse of the FutureGen proposal, the report proposed that "philanthropists must support efforts to fast-track demonstration plants by ensuring that public policies and financial channels accelerate, rather than undermine, the technology’s advancement." The report proposed that "to more quickly address likely financial and regulatory barriers, philanthropists could support a high-level commission that unites utilities, banks, environmentalists, government agencies and carbon markets." The report even flags the need to fund basic research on the best CCS techniques and storage sites.

Even more controversially the report proposes funding PR campaigns "that address the perceived safety risks of transporting and storing CO2 near communities."[8]

Not content with advocating foundations be boosters for CCS in the US, the report proposes they also "simultaneously lay the foundation" for the adoption of CCS in China and India. In particular, it proposes pushing for government spending on mapping potential storage sites as well as "subsidies for demonstration projects on and production/ investment tax credits for private research and development in the field."[9]


The study was sponsored by the:

The "funders steering committee" comprised:

  • Walt Reid, David and Lucile Packard Foundation
  • Andrew Bowman, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
  • Eric Heitz, Energy Foundation
  • Steve Brick, Joyce Foundation
  • Beatrice Schell and Leslie Harroun, Oak Foundation
  • Hal Harvey and Jacob Harold, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Scientific Advisory Committee

The report lists the scientific advisory committee as comprising:

  • Dr. Rubens Harry Born, Vitae Civilis Institute
  • Dr. Adrian Fernandez, National Institute for Ecology of Mexico
  • Prof. Michael Grubb, Cambridge University
  • Mr. David Hawkins, Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Dr. Mark Levine, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • Dr. Jonathan Pershing, World Resources Institute
  • Ms. Anumita Roychowdhury, Centre for Science and Environment
  • Ms. Frances Seymour, Center for International Forestry Research
  • Dr. Priyadarshi Shukla, Indian Institute of Management
  • Dr. Robert Socolow, Princeton University
  • Dr. Michael Wang, Argonne National Laboratory
  • Dr. Ni Weidou, Tsinghua University



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "European Climate Change Programme (2007)," The Oak Foundation website, accessed May 2008.
  2. "Table 21: DTW Interventions Address - 11GT Mitigation Potential", Design to Win, page 44.
  3. "Design to Win: Philanthropy's Role in the Fight Against Global Warming," California Energy Associates, August 2007 (PDF file), pages 6-7.
  4. ibid, page 14.
  5. ibid, page 23,
  6. ibid, page 10.
  7. ibid, page 25.
  8. ibid, page 25.
  9. ibid, page 26.

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