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McKnight Foundation commits $100 million to combat climate change

The Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation has joined with two other charitable foundations in a philanthropic commitment of over $1 billion to support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. McKnight’s grant will be spread over five years. 

Declaring that climate-change effects will have major social consequences, the McKnight Foundation announced today that it is committing $100 million to support national and international efforts to help devise policies and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 
 
McKnight, whose latest grant will be spread over five years, is joining with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in a philanthropic commitment of over $1 billion to combat climate change. 
 
“Without immediate action, climate change will put at risk all those served by our programs,” said McKnight President Kate Wolford. 

While the latest commitment is major, it is consistent with McKnight’s previous interest in climate change. Since 1998 the Minneapolis-based foundation said it has invested $28 million in the Energy Foundation of San Francisco and another $3 million to the Re-Amp network of Minneapolis to support Midwest efforts to address climate change
 
This includes development of a regional cap-and-trade program through the Midwestern Governors Association, following more advanced efforts in the New England region and the west coast. That effort, initially supported by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, is expected to make key recommendations later this year.  
 
Since 1991, McKnight has contributed about $100 million to various Midwest efforts to increase development of renewable energy sources. 
 
$16 million to ClimateWorks last year
Last year, McKnight gave $16 million to ClimateWorks of San Francisco to help accelerate adoption of clean-energy technologies in nations and regions where most carbon emissions are generated, including the United States, China and India.  
 
Increased financial commitments by McKnight and others comes as the Obama administration is seeking to overcome policies of the Bush administration that basically frustrated national and worldwide efforts to address climate change. Major parts of Obama’s economic stimulus package are directed at improving energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, and his administration is otherwise becoming engaged in major international efforts through the United Nations. 
 
A dearth of funding for climate-change efforts in the United States was highlighted yesterday in a report published in the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health (PDF). It that noted only $3 million was spent to address health risks resulting from climate change, even though experts have called for upwards of $100 million in funding. 

Numerous events and programs aimed at various aspects of combating climate change will be occurring through 2009, leading up to a worldwide summit in Copenhagen in December. 
 
Direct help to carbon-emitting nations
Gretchen Bonfert, who directs McKnight’s environmental program, stressed that the foundation’s funding is to support efforts by the Energy Foundation and ClimateWorks to provide direct technical and other assistance to carbon-emitting nations on specific polities and strategies to reduce greenhouse gases. In this way, Bonfert said, very specific assistance will go to putting policies in place in at least 21 countries that have expressed a desire to curb emissions. 
 
An important part of the effort, Bonfert said, is to devise ways to compensate nations in South America and Southeast Asia – especially Indonesia and Bali — to prevent destruction of tropical rain forests. She said substantial carbon is released as forests are cut. 
 
But the larger interest by McKnight, Bonfert said, is that people in the United States and worldwide who are vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change are least able to mitigate the effects. These are, she said, persons living at or near poverty. 
 
Earlier this month, Oxfam Vice President Jim Lyon addressed that very question in an address at St. Olaf College’s Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Already, Lyon said, climate change is affecting millions of people worldwide in the form of catastrophic natural events — including Hurricane Katrina that struck New Orleans in 2005 — and growing hunger from prolonged drought. 
 
Lyon said that the climate-change models show that areas around the Mediterranean, sub-Sahara Africa, broad parts of Asia, South America and the U.S. Southwest are likely to be most affected by floods, drought, spreading disease and food shortages. 
 
Lyon also pointed to a recent report on national-security implications of climate change that said a warming plant presents a “threat multiplier” effect.