Who we are
At Giving Green, we use an effective altruism-informed approach to recommend the best giving opportunities for fighting climate change.
Why we’re posting
- To clarify differences in strategy – There are two primary climate change charity recommenders in the effective altruism community: Giving Green and Founders Pledge. We would like to explain (in our opinion) where our approaches overlap and where they diverge to demonstrate our respective strengths.
- To encourage discussion and sharpen our thinking – We hope that our writing here will lead to feedback on our work, which we may use to update our approach. Ultimately, we believe that both our organizations are filling essential niches within the EA climate space.
We would like to thank Johannes Ackva and Matt Lerner at Founders Pledge for comments and clarifications on our initial draft.
Giving Green’s approach to recommending climate organizations
Giving Green’s priority areas
At Giving Green, we measure impact in terms of reduced levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere and seek opportunities that are highly impactful at the margin. To that end, we believe that the most impactful organizations are working to enact systemic policy change. As part of our philanthropic strategy, we support the following priority areas:
- Policy advocacy for emissions reduction – Policy organizations can apply pressure on policymakers to implement legislation, executive orders, and/or regulations designed to drive down emissions. This pressure can be highly impactful in influencing policy scope and government funding.
- Technology innovation – Increased funding for research and development (R&D) of neglected technologies (e.g., nuclear energy and direct air capture) and support for their deployment can potentially improve their capabilities and reduce costs in the future. If successful, this could improve their ability to scale and lower levels of GHGs in the atmosphere over the long run. Additionally, benefits from technology innovation are not limited by country borders. Namely, innovation can influence technological change in other countries (technological diffusion) and lead to global GHG reductions. Note that there is considerable overlap with policy advocacy, as we believe that policy advocacy can be a crucial lever to push technology forward.
Giving Green also guides non-philanthropic actors, such as businesses trying to meet net-zero goals and investors looking to help the climate. Our guidance includes research into carbon offsets and removals, impact investing, and Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) funds.
Where Giving Green works
At Giving Green, we believe there are potentially high-impact donation opportunities in many countries, and at the international and sub-national levels. We currently focus our policy efforts on the US and Australia and have developed recommendations for the two countries. We selected these specific countries for a few reasons:
- US – The US is a global leader in R&D and contributes a significant amount to global CO2 emissions. As a small US-based team, starting with US policy played to our comparative advantage.
- Australia – Australia is a top coal exporter, so pushing for more ambitious policy here is arguably a key piece in the global fight against climate change. Our decision to work on Australian policy is also influenced by donor preference, as a sizable Australian organization asked us to provide recommendations for the Australian market.
We plan on expanding our work to include organizations in other countries and subnational organizations.
Founders Pledge’s approach to recommending climate organizations
Founders Pledge’s theories of change
Founders Pledge focuses on minimizing climate damage as their primary outcome metric, as they believe that focusing on damage leads to different philanthropic choices than looking at emissions alone. It has selected several theories of change that it believes are most promising in causing high impact. Founders Pledge expects that its hypotheses will change over time; it has investigated other theories of change and will continue to do so.
- Accelerating innovation in neglected technologies – According to Founders Pledge, there is more potential for climate damage in futures where mainstream methods for reducing emissions fail. Energy innovation may be a better bet than other approaches because its benefits are more robust to the situations that may arise in a high climate damage scenario (e.g., rapidly growing emerging economies, low willingness to pay for climate policy, and weak international coordination).
- Avoiding carbon lock-in in emerging economies – Carbon lock-in refers to the tendency for fossil fuel-intensive systems to persist and prevent a transition to cleaner energy. If emerging economies successfully avoid carbon lock-in, they will likely experience a lower carbon emissions trajectory. This more downward trajectory is vital because most 21st-century emissions are expected to come from emerging economies.
- Policy leadership and paradigm shaping – The diffusion of policy ideas from one country to another can have a multiplier effect on emissions reduction.
- Growing promising organizations – By supporting promising organizations, Founders Pledge can likely help them increase their impact later. Additionally, the marginal impact of a dollar donated is probably higher for fledgling organizations rather than more established ones.
Where Founders Pledge works
Founders Pledge evaluates potential grantees worldwide. Although the vast majority of its grants so far have been to organizations based in wealthy countries, it considers them primarily based on their potential to reduce emissions worldwide, specifically in developing countries. Founders Pledge has investigated climate interventions that would reduce emissions in wealthy countries, but it has not yet found a charity in this space that meets its bar of "likely to be the highest impactful thing we can do at the margin given existing allocation of funding and potential of the strategy." Its reasons for this include the following:
- There is already significant attention on wealthy countries – According to Founders Pledge, which analyzed data on philanthropic foundations from ClimateWorks and large 2021 commitments from the Bezos Earth Fund and others, there is already significant funding allocated towards mainstream climate solutions in wealthy countries. On the other hand, emerging economies receive relatively more minor attention from climate philanthropy.
- Founders Pledge believes that focusing on emissions from developing countries can lead to the most significant marginal changes to climate damage trajectories – Founders Pledge argues that emissions are decreasing in wealthy countries and are regulated in ways where work to reduce emissions is not necessarily additional. In contrast to rich countries, emerging economies are experiencing a rapid increase in emissions, and there is almost no binding climate policy in these countries.
These reasons do not rule out the possibility of Founders Pledge finding impactful opportunities in rich countries in the future. For example, two of Founders Pledge’s theories of change can be based in wealthy countries (i.e., climate policy leadership and paradigm shaping, avoiding carbon lock-in in emerging economies through finance). Additionally, Founders Pledge says its recommendations have already influenced millions in funding towards US-based causes. For example, some of the donations Founders Pledge has influenced outside of its own Climate Change Fund have gone towards the Clean Air Task Force’s (CATF) work on US-based regulations and clean energy standards because Founders Pledge recommends unrestricted donations.
Where our approaches overlap
Despite taking different lenses to climate philanthropy, Giving Green and Founders Pledge agree on many high-level conclusions:
- Focus on systemic change – Giving Green and Founders Pledge believe that the most cost-effective approaches focus on systemic change instead of individual actions. We also both believe that the major levers of systemic change are policy and technology, which can be interrelated.
- Emphasis on policy advocacy – We both believe that advocating for the government to spend money on a cause can result in high leverage and improved cost-effectiveness.
- Support for technology innovations – We both think it is crucial to fund neglected technologies to drive emissions down. To that effect, we have both supported Carbon180 and CATF; Giving Green includes both organizations in our list of top charities, while Founders Pledge includes them in its Climate Change Fund.
- Support for small growing organizations – We agree that supporting small growing organizations is where donors can frequently get the most use out of the marginal dollar.
Where our approaches diverge
Our thinking and approach differ from Founders Pledge in two key ways:
- At Giving Green, we believe that specific strategies for reducing emissions in wealthy countries can yield high cost-effectiveness and are competitive with those focusing only on emissions reductions in developing countries. Founders Pledge believes that strategies in rich countries can be reasonably cost-effective, especially compared to offsets, but is skeptical that they are close to the most cost-effective opportunities to reduce climate damage.
- In addition, Giving Green seeks to provide a broader range of donation opportunities to appeal to donors with different restrictions and preferences.
(1) and (2) together lead Giving Green to recommend best-in-class climate organizations in wealthy, high-emissions countries like the US and Australia.
Specific strategies for reducing emissions in wealthy countries can be highly cost-effective.
Founders Pledge’s grants in wealthy countries concentrate on organizations that advocate for technology innovation. In contrast, Giving Green recommends organizations that work on technology innovations (i.e., CATF and Carbon180) and organizations that work on domestic emissions reductions. For example, one of our 2021 recommendations is the US policy advocacy organization Evergreen Collaborative, which has worked chiefly on domestic energy policy. We take this expansive approach because we believe that specific, neglected strategies for reducing emissions in wealthy countries can be highly cost-effective. Below we outline why these strategies can be considered important, tractable, and neglected.
We believe that reducing emissions in wealthy countries is vital for several reasons:
- Emissions are decreasing in wealthy countries but not sharply enough.
- Emissions in wealthy countries such as the US and Australia have decreased in recent years, but their rates of decrease have been slight (Figure 1). Additionally, rich countries’ current long-term strategies for emission reduction are largely incompatible with the Paris Agreement, which aims to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.”
- It seems unlikely that wealthy countries’ emissions reductions will accelerate without significant policy intervention. For example, the most prominent factor (among many) accounting for the US decline in emissions is the country’s transition from coal to natural gas. This transition was a one-time switch, and there is a limit to how much this continued transition can drive additional emissions reduction.
- Although many wealthy countries have made commitments to emissions reductions, we do not see these as binding in practice, and therefore believe that philanthropic action can be highly additional.
- Wealthy countries’ emissions reductions send a signal to other countries – We think it is likely that by having domestic policies that aggressively drive down emissions, rich countries can demand greater and faster action from other countries when negotiating international standards. Founders Pledge shares this argument but says that it has never seen a convincing case for this in action.
Ultimately, we believe it is unlikely that the status quo will lead to the deep decarbonization that we need.
Figure 1: Annual CO2 emissions between 1958 and 2019 in the United States and Australia
Reducing emissions in wealthy countries remains tractable for several reasons (using the US as an example):
- There are multiple avenues for influencing policy – Within the US, numerous policymakers have stood in the way of passing bold climate policy at multiple levels of government. Although tractability depends on the political context, savvy organizations will find their openings. For example, organizations can fight the climate battle at various levels of government and across different states. Policy wins can also occur through legislative, executive, and/or judicial branches.
- Opportunities to effect change in the US will remain even after the 2022 midterm elections – Democrats will likely lose their government trifecta after the 2022 midterm elections. Although this would reduce Democrats’ ability to create new laws at the federal level, there will still be opportunities for change (e.g., bill implementation, policy development at the state and regional levels).
- Money spent on policy development can ensure that the right policies are made and advocated for – It makes sense to fund small organizations that can develop innovative and impactful policies and know the political landscape well. Evergreen Collaborative, for example, is a small and agile policy organization whose plan is centered on fighting the climate crisis.
We agree that the climate space in wealthy countries is not neglected as a whole, but there are still certain groups and strategies that are overlooked. More specifically, funding for mainstream climate solutions in wealthy countries has increased, but we see this as a weak proxy for assessing room for more funding. Namely, specific highly effective organizations do not command enough money and attention to match their potential. Evergreen Collaborative, for example, is probably an unfamiliar name to the average person and has significant room for more funding.
We’ve conducted cost-effectiveness analyses for several organizations focused on US Policy and have found many of them to be very cost-effective. We calculate cost-effectiveness in terms of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) avoided/removed per dollar spent. Although we agree with Founders Pledge that climate damage is the ultimate outcome that matters, we believe that a focus on emissions provides a powerful proxy for climate damage and is, therefore, an appropriate outcome metric.
- Reducing emissions in the US can be highly cost-effective – We developed cost-effectiveness analysis models for organizations working on domestic policy such as Evergreen Collaborative, Rewiring America, the Sunrise Movement, and the Green New Deal Network. We found each organization to be probably highly cost-effective in reducing GHGs in the atmosphere. This cost-effectiveness is subject, of course, to heavy caveats on the inherent uncertainty of estimating cost-effectiveness for policy advocacy. The precise numbers should be considered rough estimates, and we think it’s appropriate to make comparisons only based on the order of magnitude. Our best estimates for their cost-effectiveness in reducing emissions (in expectation) are as follows:
- Evergreen Collaborative – $0.54 per metric ton of CO2e
- Rewiring America – $3.14 per metric ton of CO2e
- The Sunrise Movement – $0.22 per metric ton of CO2e
- Green New Deal Network – $0.73 per metric ton of CO2e
- The cost-effectiveness of domestic policy organizations is comparable to that of technology innovation organizations – The cost-effectiveness of the domestic policy organizations that we investigated was comparable to that of Carbon180 and CATF. Estimates for their cost-effectiveness in reducing emissions (in expectation) are listed below. Note that we believe that our cost-effectiveness estimates for technology innovation are less certain than the above estimates for short-term emission reduction policy since the long-term impacts of new technologies are less certain and not included in the model.
- Carbon180 – $0.66 per metric ton of CO2e
- CATF – Using a conservative and backward-looking back-of-the-envelope calculation, Founders Pledge estimates that CATF’s work on passing the 45Q tax credits for carbon sequestration reduces CO2e at the cost of $0.11 per metric ton in expectation. Founders Pledge estimates that CATF’s work in the US removes CO2e at roughly $0.30 per metric ton in expectation. (Giving Green is currently undertaking our own CEA for CATF.)
In conclusion, although Giving Green agrees with Founders Pledge that preventing increased emissions in developing countries should be a philanthropic priority, we believe there are opportunities in wealthy countries with comparable cost-effectiveness. This belief, combined with our strategy of providing a more comprehensive range of donation opportunities (described below), leads us to continue searching for high-impact opportunities in wealthy countries.
We provide a broader range of donation opportunities to appeal to donors with different restrictions and preferences.
At Giving Green, we believe we can optimize our impact by providing recommendations for donors who may have different giving preferences than the typical EA. Therefore, we cast a wider net than Founders Pledge to include people who want to, for example, prioritize local giving in their own country. We expect this to increase the amount of funding towards domestic causes that are highly effective at the margin instead of well-known environmental organizations, which are probably already well-funded.
There is some risk that our broad approach may displace funds from organizations with the absolute highest level of cost-effectiveness. However, we firmly believe that our approach allows us to increase our range of influence without meaningfully cannibalizing our “top” recommendations. For example, we take into account the following types of preferences:
- Desire for domestic policy advocacy – Many donors are not interested in giving to policy advocacy organizations outside their own country. This preference can be due to personal interest, such as a desire to make a tax-deductible donation. Therefore Giving Green offers country-specific recommendations.
- Preference for carbon offsets – Businesses and organizations with net-zero goals are generally unwilling or unable to donate to places that focus on policy advocacy but may be interested in carbon offsets instead.
- Investment vs. donations – Many people would like to influence the climate through investments rather than philanthropic contributions. Giving Green has a new research workstream to guide pro-climate investments.
Influencing donors with these preferences could increase emissions reduction relative to a counterfactual where they either (1) donate to less effective organizations or (2) not at all.
Please note that although we cast a wider net to capture more potential donors, we do not select charities for reasons of organizational variety. For example, our 2021 US recommendations did not include any activist groups, even though we investigated the impact and cost-effectiveness of progressive US-based activism this past year. Additionally, we have tried to limit the risk of funding displacement by making it clear on our website that policy organizations are more impactful than carbon offsets.
Giving Green and Founders Pledge both recommend the best giving opportunities for fighting climate change. However, although their approaches overlap in some ways, they diverge in key ways, leading to some differences in final charity recommendations. Notably, Giving Green seeks to appeal to a more expansive donor pool (e.g., donors who have donation constraints).
We welcome feedback from the EA community and are happy to discuss our ideas in the comments below or through email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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