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We are excited to announce the launch of the Effective Altruism Australia Environment Fund (EAAE). EAAE is a collaboration between Effective Altruism Australia, and our two evaluation partners, Giving Green, and Founders Pledge.

This project works to:

  1. Provide an easy method for Australian donors to donate tax deductibly to some of the highest impact climate charities worldwide.
  2. Provide Australian donors with high impact climate recommendations, offering both the most effective climate charities worldwide, and the most effective operating within Australia. We hope this will pull donors interested in climate towards higher impact charities.

In this post, we also make the case for why we think assisting regular, non-EA donors in funding high impact charities in more conventional cause areas is a high impact activity, and an important priority. We also outline how our approach addresses one part of this problem, through improving the funding landscape around climate. 

The Problem

17% of Australians say climate change or the environment is the most important issue for them when voting in federal elections.[1] There is also strong interest in Australia in donating to climate charities. Australians collectively donate $12.7B to charity each year, of which ~2% goes to climate.[2] This represents an allocation of ~$254 Million per year. We think most of these donors want to do more good rather than less, but we guess that many of those donations are not currently optimised for impact. Those who are trying to optimise for impact have historically needed to forgo a tax deduction to do it.

That’s because it’s hard for international charities to get registered for tax deductions in Australia. In global health, GiveWell and most of their top charities are not registered in Australia (only AMF is). Instead, Australian donors generally give to The Life You Can Save or Effective Altruism Australia, who re-grant to GiveWell’s top charities. This lets Australian donors get a deduction, saving them up to 45%, while letting the partner charities spend their money on deworming and Vitamin A, instead of lawyers to figure out a convoluted tax act. The tax act is even more complicated for environmental organisations, with the Federal Minister for the Environment herself needing to sign off on each charity. We aim to do for the environment what The Life You Can Save have done for global health: channel more of this interest in climate change toward donating to impactful charities.

Our Solution

EAAE manages a fund that allows Australians to make tax deductible contributions. While we can’t let donors say exactly which international charity they want their money to go to,[3] we instead work with evaluation partners to figure out where money can go the furthest toward tackling climate change.[4] We have started by partnering with three charities which have been among the top recommendations of Giving Green and Founders Pledge. We’ll continue onboarding charities recommended by these organisations (when we can), and work with those evaluation partners to see what they think is impactful and which has room for more funding. Our starting partner charities are:

  • Clean Air Task Force: Clean Air Task Force are working to decarbonise the global energy system to address climate change. They do this by advocating for the technologies and policies needed to get to a zero-emissions, high-energy planet at an affordable cost. Their vision is to create a world where the energy needs of all people are met efficiently without damaging the atmosphere. 
  • Evergreen Collaborative: Evergreen Collaborative pairs policy products with campaign-style communications and advocacy tactics to galvanise an all-government mobilisation to tackle the climate crisis and build a just and thriving clean energy economy. Evergreen’s work has seen a number of successes including the Biden Administration’s adoption of significant pieces of the Evergreen Action Plan with Evergreen also playing a pivotal role in the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). 
  • Carbon 180: Carbon180 works with policymakers, entrepreneurs, and peer organisations across the US to design policies that will bring necessary carbon removal solutions to gigaton scale. Over the last seven years, their advocacy has helped catalyse billions of dollars in new investments and has helped pioneer some of the first major federal incentives. Their vision is to not just reduce emissions but to build a carbon-removing world and to create a liveable climate in which current and future generations can thrive. 

Over the coming year, under our collaboration with Giving Green and with the supervision of their team, we will also be looking to assess high impact climate organisations based in Australia, in order to assist the market of Australian donors who are exclusively interested in donating domestically. Early interviews with Australian climate NGOs and foundations indicate that there is a significant amount of funding interest of this kind in Australia. As such, we believe the counterfactual impact of redirecting these donations towards the highest impact opportunities that match the donors criteria could provide significant value.

Why Australia?

Australia has high per-capita emissions. In addition to it's domestic emissions, Australia’s exports have a meaningful impact on climate on a global scale. It has been estimated that, when exports like coal are included, Australia’s carbon impact accounts for over 3.6% of the world's carbon emissions. This figure is even higher if the downstream impacts of its iron exports are included. This makes Australia a potentially promising bet with climate. That said, Australis is still a relatively small country, and has a lower emissions profile than larger actors like America and China. Still, we have developed the fund in Australia primarily because:

  1. we noticed this was a gap in the market
  2. we think Australia is unusually well suited for a project of this kind, as there are many high income donors interested in supporting climate interventions, but little support, and
  3. Effective Altruism Australia has demonstrated proof-of-concept, raising over $10m toward effective charities, and given we have financial and legal infrastructure set up, we have a comparative advantage in fixing this gap.

However, we think funds of this kind may be useful in many countries which fulfil the following criteria (as Australia does):

  1. Comparatively high amount of disposable income
  2. An high level of interest in climate interventions/climate giving in particular
  3. Few high-impact options for people donating tax deductibly to climate change[5]
  4. High regulatory barriers for international organisations to get registered

Australia looks strong on the criteria above, but we believe that these sorts of projects could exist in more countries that have similar issues as well. 

Why Focus on Climate Change and not other risks?

Like the rest of the EA community, EA Australia is worried about many risks, not just climate change. However, effective climate giving seemed the most feasible in the Australian regulatory environment, it’s an important on-ramp for many who care about doing more good, and it seems within the Australian Overton window. These traits are not true of other GCRs. For example, even though Australian GCR charity International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) can win a Nobel Prize, it can’t get tax deductible donations in Australia. I know, ICANot believe it either.[6]

Why Funds and Evaluators Likely Have High Counterfactual Value

As has been argued elsewhere on the forum, funds and charity evaluators are a potentially high scale method of doing good that has been mostly ignored so far. 

A few quick facts: The United States donated almost $500 billion just in 2021.  Without listing every individual country, European charitable donations are on the scale of hundreds of billions as well. Overall, yearly charitable donations in rich countries worldwide are in the high hundreds of billions of USD. Most of this money, from an EA perspective, is wildly inefficiently spent. [source]

A huge number of non-EA donors already donate, and want to donate to specific causes. Often, there are reasons other than impact (personal connection etc), so advising them to donate to another cause entirely might not work.

However, many of these people also do want to give well within their cause area. It’s hard to get people to switch from an area they care about deeply to start prioritising malaria nets. For those people, advice and recommendations which can redirect donations more effectively within key cause areas could help them act on their values more effectively. It can magnify the impact of their donations, and open up a significant pool of funding that could be used less effectively otherwise.

Many non-EA donors are going to donate to their chosen cause areas, regardless of EA advocacy. There is a huge amount of impact to be had in trying to improve the effectiveness of these donations.

This is especially true in areas where: 

  1. the difference in effectiveness between the the best charities and the average charity in the space may be quite high [e.g., 80,000 hours on climate
  2. there is already a huge level of societal will to support those cause areas among the general public 

One area like this is climate. There is a strong level of interest in Australia among the general public in donating to climate change - and this is what we are looking to facilitate with this fund. However, this fund is also working as a proof of concept - as this idea could hold for a number of different cause areas. We assume it’s easier to help people switch to more effective approaches within cause areas than it is to switch between cause areas (e.g., to go from ‘I care about climate change’ to ‘this way of doing climate change is better’, rather than ‘I care about climate change’ to ‘I care about existential risks from pandemics’). Most Australians concerned by climate change probably have not heard of existential risk or longtermism; however the issues have ideological similarities, including a global perspective, a sense of future harms, and an urge to act via multiple vectors (donations, political action and career decisions). We assume that switches between cause areas are easier once people are thinking and acting with an eye to effectiveness, and think climate is fertile soil for messaging around effectiveness. As a result, allowing tax-deductible donations toward effective climate options looks good from a range of worldviews. 

It is likely that there are many such causes that meet the criteria outlined above (e.g., violence against women and girls, mental health), and which could serve as outstanding candidate causes where large counterfactual impact could be created through better donation guidance. We will report back on whether our assumptions hold.

How You Can Help

Spread the word

If you have friends or contacts in Australia who are interested in supporting climate interventions, recommend them to check out the EAA environment fund! By donating here, they may be multiplying the impact of their donations many times over.

Funding

If you’re an Australian looking to donate specifically to climate charities, you can now donate to the Effective Altruism Australia Environment fund (EAAE) here. This is the only current way for Australians to make tax deductible donations to Giving Green’s, or Founders Pledge’s, recommended international charities. Donations to the fund go to a mix of charities, as recommended by Giving Green and Founders Pledge.

Follow our work

If you would like to be kept updated by our work then feel free to follow us on FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn.

Feedback

We greatly value your feedback and suggestions. Please feel free to post your questions or comments below.
 

  1. ^

    P.10 “In 2019 and 2022, 10 percent mentioned global warming as the most important election issue compared to 4 percent in 2013 and 2016. Mentions of the environment show a long-term increase, albeit with a slight decline from 11 percent in 2019 to 7 percent in 2022.” [source]

  2. ^

    There are some charities that target global catastrophic risks in Australia, but we'd estimate that <0.1% of donations go towards those charities, and few of them would be eligible for tax deductible donations. To our knowledge, no 'EA' GCR charities are tax deductible in Australia.

  3. ^

    P.11: “An [environmental] organisation must not be directed by a donor to act as a conduit by passing a donation of money or property to other organisations, bodies or persons.“ [source]

  4. ^

    Less like “choose from GiveWell’s top charities” and more like GiveWell’s maximum impact fund.

  5. ^

    Even if the most rational approach might be for impact-oriented donors to forgo a tax deduction, a meta-review my colleagues and I conducted showed that tax deductibility is one of the best things for increasing the size of donations. Also, in some cases, foundations (or donor advised funds) can only disperse funding to charities with tax-deductible status.

  6. ^

    We are trying to fix this. For example, have advocated for the government to make it easier for charities focused on existential risks to get registered here in Australia, as they can in many other parts of the world.

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I think this is a great idea. I agree that it is much easier to shift giving within a cause area than between cause areas. 

I do wonder if there are ways to build in cross-causal giving using this platform. For example, I am curious whether the giving multiplier mechanism would be an effective way to achieve both 1) increased effectiveness within climate change donations and 2) substitute some donations to other cause areas. However, I would be hesitant to include this straight away, but if the EEA EF gets momentum it is something to consider. 

Also, I am curious what your strategy is in marketing the platform to non EAs who care about climate change. Have you had any success stories so far? 

Thanks for the support Ben. I love what giving multiplier are doing and we entertained the idea down here but we have more restrictive charity regranting laws down here. My understand is that giving multiplier can basically just forward re-grants to the donor's target, but our read of the Aussie legislation is that we'd need to formally partner with every charity that a donor would want to choose.

Our strategy for marketing to non-EAs is to partner with Giving Green to support a Manager of Climate Giving for Giving Green Australia. Basically, we work closely with Jack who's job is to both evaluate Australian options but also to market and fundraise around effective climate giving in Australia. We're also planning to hire a fundraiser and marketer for EAA.

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