Dec 16, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Exclusive: Climate movement veterans launch major new foundation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Prominent climate movement veterans have set up a major new foundation with a mission to steer big, near-term policy decisions in nations with large carbon emissions.

Driving the news: Climate Imperative is emerging publicly today and with a planned budget of $180 million annually over five years. The California-based foundation began making grants in the spring of 2020.

  • "I think what sets us apart is identifying the biggest decisions for our climate in the biggest emitting countries in the next five years, and then providing the resources and expertise to make sure those decisions go the right way," senior director Mary Anne Hitt said in an interview.
  • She was previously the Sierra Club's national director of campaigns and was director of its Beyond Coal Campaign that helped spur the closure of many coal-fired power plants.

Zoom in: The funders, staff and advisers are boldface names in the climate and clean tech worlds.

  • The executive director is Bruce Nilles, who spent over a decade creating and running Beyond Coal.
  • Other staff include Bakeyah S. Nelson, the director of global initiatives who was executive director of Air Alliance Houston; and U.S. federal initiatives head Rekha Rao, who comes from PG&E.
  • The clean energy policy firm Energy Innovation helped create the foundation and CEO Hal Harvey is the foundation's president.

Funders include prominent venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife, Ann; Sam Walton; Anita and Josh Bekenstein and others.

  • Advisers include Mary Nichols, who until recently was California's top emissions regulator, and Margo Oge, a former top EPA transportation official.

Why it matters: Steep emissions cuts this decade are needed to keep the temperature-limiting goals of the Paris climate agreement within reach but are nowhere in evidence yet.

  • More broadly, policy decisions and deployment in the near term will help dictate whether clean technologies reach the scale needed in the coming decades.
  • "Today’s policy decisions are the difference between a livable and unlivable tomorrow," the website states.

How it works: The foundation is designed to provide funding, technical support and expertise to organizations working on policy, and does not fund political advocacy.

  • The website lists "policy imperatives" such as scaling renewables, widespread building and vehicle electrification, and stopping fossil fuel infrastructure expansion.
  • Its work thus far includes efforts around European Union policy decisions on vehicle electrification, and energy transition policy in China — the world's largest emitter — over the next five years.
  • Some grantees to date: Energy Foundation China, the European organization Transport & Environment, and the U.S. groups WE ACT for Environmental Justice and the American Lung Association.
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