Leonardo DiCaprio's Latest Big Role: A Serious Climate Funder

Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate activism has been at full force lately, and his mostly wildlife-focused philanthropy is beginning to follow suit, with a $650,000 grant toward cities and climate solutions.

DiCaprio is having something of a moment right now, coming off of his first Oscar win and using his bigger-than-ever celebrity platform to spur action on climate change. 

It also seems as though his activist hobby and celebrity persona are starting to merge into one force. A recent Rolling Stone profile highlighted the synchronicity between his role in wilderness survival film The Revenant and the latest climate change documentary he produced at the same time. DiCaprio has been marching and giving speeches all over the place on climate change in the past couple of years, and he even used the majority of his Oscar acceptance speech to talk about the issue. 

He’s become that rare thing—an A+ lister who is getting to be as well known and powerful as a public persona and advocate as he is an actor. And it's a combo that can be a powerful force. The Rolling Stone piece called DiCaprio “not just a man but also an organic commodity that can be used for good or evil.” 

Setting celebrity playboy antics aside, it’s become impossible not to take DiCaprio’s environmentalism seriously. His philanthropy is no joke, either. 

We’ve watched the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation evolve, even in the past few years, from writing periodic big checks to large institutions working primarily on saving wildlife species, to a more varied and nuanced grantmaking program. 

RelatedLeonardo DiCaprio’s Giving Just Got Way More Interesting

One thing in particular that we’ve been anticipating is a greater move toward serious climate change funding. While LDF still appears to be prioritizing wildlife and biodiversity, DiCaprio's been using his public platform primarily to discuss topics like the greed of fossil fuel companies and the need to shift toward clean energy. 

The foundation’s latest grant is the first large example of such funding we've seen from the actor, creating and supporting an ongoing partnership with nonprofit R20 to identify and fund renewable energy, energy efficiency, and waste management projects in communities. The grant carries out the work of the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance, started by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2014 to increase investments in cities to reduce emissions.

We saw some hints of such funding last year, when a round of LDF grants sent $15 million to several nonprofits, some of which work in sustainability and clean energy. That included the Solutions Project, started by Mark Ruffalo and environmental engineer Mark Jacobson. 

Related: Mark Ruffalo’s Clean Energy Outfit is Growing, and Drawing A-List Funders

It’s always a little hard to tell exactly where DiCaprio’s foundation has been and where it’s going. Even though it’s done a better job of conveying its giving and mission lately, it still operates as a donor-advised fund. But this seems to be a new kind of grant for LDF, and it could signal a bigger shift for the funder toward a greater focus on climate and energy. 

That would be great to see, as the rare combination of DiCaprio’s public platform, his access to experts and leaders, his own wealth, and his ability to summon money from other rich and famous friends, could be a powerful weapon when focused intensely on the issue of our time.