This week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) hosted the Climate Crossroads Summit, a dynamic meeting engaging experts, community stakeholders, and decision-makers on equitable pathways to meet the climate crisis. The summit was held in person at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., and live streamed to a global audience July 11-12. Dr. Kate Lowry, Strategy Director for the Science Philanthropy Alliance, served as a panelist at the summit’s “Engaging Partners to Catalyze Action” session. The impactful summit had over 1,900 registrants.
Dr. Lowry and fellow panelists from industry and professional societies discussed different models and stakeholders for partnership towards shared climate goals in a wide-ranging conversation including building capacity, active industry engagement, catalytic philanthropy, bringing government to the table, and keeping discovery in the picture even as we look towards deployment. The panel was moderated by Dr. Susan Tierney, Senior Advisor for the Analysis Group, and featured Dr. Lowry, as well as Dr. Dan Walker, American Society of Civil Engineers and Senior Geologist at EA Engineering, Science, and Technology, Inc., and Dr. Lucas Joppa, Chief Sustainability Officer, and Senior Managing Director at Haveli Investments.
In her opening remarks, Dr. Lowry shared the way her own research background focused on marine phytoplankton in the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica gave her first-hand experience with the impacts of climate change in these rapidly changing regions. She shared that in her work with the Alliance, she’s seen how philanthropy, including in the climate space, can play a catalytic role by supporting high-risk, interdisciplinary projects, seeding new fields of research, supporting diverse sets of early career researchers, and nimbly funding activities that the government cannot easily fund. Dr. Lowry highlighted examples of critical climate research, networks, and tools supported by philanthropic foundations and their partners, including the Climate Leadership Initiative, many projects developed through The Audacious Project (an initiative of TED), and the globally oriented UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
Dr. Lowry noted that philanthropy in general is a key – yet often overlooked – sector of the scientific research enterprise, comprising along with higher education institutional funds nearly 40% of funding for basic research at America’s universities and non-profit research institutions (2021 estimate from NSF NCSES). She also shared findings from reports investigating the contribution of philanthropy specifically to climate research, including the Climate Works Foundation’s finding that philanthropic support for climate mitigation comprises only 2% of all philanthropic giving.
A key takeaway message was that there are significant needs for support in this area, including many underfunded areas of climate-related research particularly suited for philanthropy. Dr. Lowry referenced a recent discussion of the Alliance’s External Science Advisors regarding the biggest opportunities and gaps for science philanthropy, with several of the identified priorities relating to climate and ocean science. Dr. Lowry’s emphasis on the contributions of discovery science was shared and amplified by other panelists. Finally, Dr. Lowry highlighted the opportunity for philanthropy to partner nationally with AAAS and with many active and developing state programs (an example is here) to fund science and technology policy fellows who can contribute scientific and engineering expertise to policymaking related to addressing climate change.
Science Philanthropy Alliance members Dr. Cyndi Atherton, Director of Science for the Heising-Simons Foundation, and Dr. Evan Michelson, Program Director at the Arthur P. Sloan Foundation, also moderated panels at the summit. Dr. Atherton and Dr. Michelson were also authors on the Alliance’s first strategic plan, which emphasizes the importance of partnerships and collaboration for increased impact.
The Climate Crossroads Summit was sponsored by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The summit website is available at this link: https://www.nationalacademies.org/event/39683_07-2023_climate-crossroads-summit-2023.