Where Is MacArthur’s Budding Climate Program Heading Now?

 A coal fired power plant in india

A coal fired power plant in india

After years of focusing its environmental giving on conservation, MacArthur in 2015 took the plunge and officially became a climate funder. And a big one.

The foundation kicked off the new program—intended as a large, foundation-spanning, and open-ended commitment to the issue—with around $50 million in grants. It was announced as a part of MacArthur’s major overhaul under new president Julia Stasch, who took a hatchet to the foundation’s sprawling suite of programs and zeroed in on some big priorities. 

It was definitely a welcome change to see MacArthur go all-in on climate, previously funding related work only in the context of its other initiatives. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to think of any environmental issues outside the scope of climate change. 

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Its initial round of climate program grants, several million in general support grants to big green groups, made it a little hard to know where it was headed. But we now know a bit more. 

Most notable is the recent news that the program will reach out globally to fund climate leadership in India. Originally, the focus of funding was on developing U.S. climate leadership to make it less of a divisive issue. 

I have to wonder how the election outcome is going to influence their domestic approach, but early on, staff indicated that MacArthur was interested in climate change as a global issue, also looking at India and China. Supporting India’s climate leadership is now an official program priority. The foundation has operated a satellite office in India since 1994, one of three outside the U.S., and has previously funded health programs in the country.

India is an extremely important front in the climate fight, and it’s a clutch moment, as we’ve discussed. As the country races to bring electricity to hundreds of millions of people living in its rural areas, much of the world’s future greenhouse gas load hinges on how that development occurs—via coal or renewables. India will need tremendous financial and technical support from the West if its development is going to be sustainable, and if it’s going to be a model for sustainable development globally.

As such, an emerging priority for some of the biggest funders in the United States has been supporting sustainable development in India. We wrote previously about a hefty partnership between four major foundations, including MacArthur, and the Indian government. In addition, Hewlett, one of the largest clean energy funders in the world, has raised its support for work in India. Then there's Rockefeller, which has invested millions in bringing clean energy to rural India. 

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MacArthur’s $18 million in new grants toward initial work in India cover research and analysis, developing high-quality data, incubating renewable energy projects, and exploring market-based mechanisms (another of MacArthur’s climate priorities is placing a price on carbon).

The funding also notably broadens the foundation’s climate giving—this new round of grants nearly doubles the number of grantees the program is supporting. While the big greens like EDF and Nature Conservancy are still in the mix in the India initiative, it’s good to see the number of grantees expanding. About half of the nonprofits in this round are based in India.

That doesn’t mean the funder is backing away from U.S. work, however, and we’ve seen some other interesting new grantees, including the Audubon’s massive new climate program, and communications outfits such as Climate Nexus, and Climate Central. 

Related: With Birds at Risk, Audubon Jumps Into Climate Issues in a Big Way—With Big Funders