The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s report, Much Alarm, Less Action: Foundations and Climate Change, reveals that many non-climate funders see climate change as outside the scope of their mission and resources, but still believe that it’s an urgent problem and haven’t ruled out future efforts to address it. Here, we see an opening. We invite funders to consider how each of us can enter the climate space from our particular lens; there is a role for all of us, no matter our issue area or our size.
We at Unbound Philanthropy are an example of a non-climate funder that has recently entered the climate space, seeing that climate change is inextricably connected to our mission: to contribute to vibrant, welcoming societies and just immigration systems in the U.S. and UK.
When we consider the intersections of climate change and migration, there are two major areas we are focused on: First, climate-related displacement is happening now, and second, immigrant communities feel climate change in their daily lives, and are leading solutions for climate justice. We also believe that we must approach climate solutions in collaboration, in a way that creates better solutions for everyone.
Climate-related displacement is happening now. Even if we dramatically slow climate change, we know that climate-related displacement is going to increase, likely dramatically, and we are unprepared. While Unbound and our grantee partners see migration as an adaptation to the climate crisis that governments should plan for, the response in some of the world’s wealthiest countries has been to put up what Bill McKibben calls “a global climate wall — consisting of weapons, walls, spying systems, and prisons — that aims to seal off the most powerful countries from the impacts of displacement.”
Viewing human migration rather than climate change as the primary threat, these countries pour billions of dollars into border surveillance and enforcement, fueling these industries as well as underground ones like smuggling, instead of investing in climate finance and addressing the root causes and the impacts of climate-related displacement. Creating safe and humane pathways for people who must leave their homes for climate and other reasons to survive will benefit all of us, as will creating infrastructure and a welcoming culture for people who are displaced from their own countries. The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), an Unbound grantee partner, is utilizing existing legal pathways, and working with other organizational partners to establish a new legal framework, to support climate-displaced people. You can read more about these strategies in this recently published case study: “21st Century Law for 21st Century Migration,” and in Deepak Bhargava’s article, “Social Democracy or Fortress Democracy? A 21st Century Immigration Plan,” for New Labor Forum.
Immigrant communities feel climate change in their daily lives and are leading solutions for climate justice. While climate change affects everyone, the damage is compounded for countries and communities that are made vulnerable by restrictive immigration policies, patriarchal beliefs and systems, structural racism, and by economic stress and exploitation. Many immigrants in the US, alongside other communities, are living on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Consider, for example, the impact of heat for farmworkers: farmworkers are 35 times more likely to die due to heat-related causes than any other occupation. Nearly three-quarters of agricultural workers in the US are immigrants.
Immigrant justice organizations have responded to climate change with ingenuity and resourcefulness. But until now, their efforts have mostly been in isolation from one another. In response to calls for coordination, capacity building, and peer learning for climate-related work from its member immigrant justice organizations working in 40 states, the National Partnership for New Americans launched the Climate Justice Collaborative in early 2022, which Unbound is supporting. The Climate Justice Collaborative seeks to mitigate the impacts of climate change on all communities, including immigrants — and ensure that migration is seen as a solution to climate change. You can read more in this recently published case study: “Harnessing the Power of the Immigrant Justice Movement for Climate Justice.”
We believe that we’ll only find solutions to the great challenges of this time, including the existential threat of climate change, if we see them as interconnected and then solve them through partnering at the intersections. We are seeing this collaboration among our grantees, who are entering the climate justice space through an immigrant justice lens, and are collaborating with climate and environmental justice organizations. To share a few examples: IRAP works in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council and 350.org, two major climate and environmental justice organizations; a group of leaders from immigrant, environmental, labor, and tribal backgrounds, as well as organizers and academics, have gathered for a series of colloquia to discuss climate-related displacement, anchored by the Roosevelt Institute; and immigrant justice organizations are collaborating and exchanging learning through the umbrella of the Climate Justice Collaborative.
In partnering together at the intersections, we need imagination.
A recent conversation between Krista Tippet and adrienne maree brown captured how I, personally, am feeling about what this imagining can look like, and about this moment we are living in. In their conversation, brown noted, “we are in a place where we can create so much history and so much change. Everything is falling apart, but also, new things are possible. We are in a time of new suns.”
We have to imagine a future where we are both slowing and adapting to climate change, and it is a better future.
Taryn Higashi is executive director of Unbound Philanthropy.