As Leo's Giving Grows, Can We Expect More Climate Funding?

Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental giving is going strong, and in the past six months or so, he’s become increasingly vocal about climate change. He still gave his latest round of $15 million in grants mostly to conservation projects, but will his foundation dive deeper into climate?

We’ve been quite interested in DiCaprio’s philanthropy for a while now, as it’s steadily grown over the past few years from dropping a few million here and there to giving pretty regular salvos to a wider variety of topics. 

Related: Leonardo DiCaprio’s Giving Just Got Way More Interesting

For such a prominent environmental philanthropist, it’s surprisingly difficult to tell where DiCaprio’s foundation is headed. Yes, he gives rousing speeches and has more awards for his activism than his acting, but we’re still just getting a sense of his giving strategy, as compared to the data-driven Bloomberg, or philanthrocapitalist Gates.

Part of the difficulty in pinning him down is that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is still just a donor-advised fund within California Community Foundation, so we have no idea how much money it has (DiCaprio regularly raises several millions of dollars through celebrity charity events) and we're only recently getting a fuller picture of its grantmaking. 

The foundation is making some strides to shed light on its giving through its website, with some general numbers and broadly defined priorities listed. LDF now lists biodiversity, wildlands, oceans, and climate change as its priorities. His giving used to be heavily tied to specific species, or marine protections, and still is, to an extent. But his June round of $15 million in giving was much more diverse, giving toward some energy work and individual grassroots activists, for example. Just this month, LDF gave another $15 million, this time in more typical larger chunks mostly to big conservation projects—Nature Conservancy, Rainforest Action Network, Oceana, Clearwater and Ceibo Alliance for work in South America.

One outstanding question is just how invested in climate work LDF will be in the future. DiCaprio has expressed a primary interest in protecting ecosystems, but lately, he can’t stop talking about climate change. 

“We simply cannot afford to allow the corporate greed of the coal, oil, and gas industries to determine the future of humanity,” he told the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he also received an award. He made similar comments at the Paris climate summit, and not too long before that, he pledged to divest his own personal investments and LDF’s investments (however much that is) from fossil fuels as part of the global divestment campaign. 

But while the latest round included $1.5 million to Mark Ruffalo’s clean energy outfit the Solutions Project, climate change still feels like a somewhat peripheral issue for DiCaprio. He and Executive Director Justin Winters seem much more interested in responsive efforts to protect species than reducing GHGs.

If his public role as an environmental spokesperson is any indicator, there’s a good chance that future funding is going to shift toward the latter. Yes, his roots are in rainforests, but his rhetoric is drifting much more toward coal plants.