“We need all hands on deck!” The world is changing dramatically, and foundations play a key role in the transformations ahead

By Stefan Schurig, Secretary-General of the Foundations-20 Platform


It was one of those – indeed – unforgettable speeches at the General Assembly in New York, September 2019. The room was packed with more than 200 presidents, heads of states, policy experts, people from the financial sector and civil society representatives. And yet, one couldn’t hear a single tone when she took the microphone. A 16-year-old teenager, who had just sailed the Atlantic to speak to the United Nations General Assembly. In a most authentic way and with an emotionally charged voice she asked a simple question: “How dare you?” The question would become the new headline of the global climate movement.

Greta’s speech was the one of a teenager who considers the years 2030 (the deadline for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals) and 2050 as timeframes when she will still be under the age of 50. How dare you – challenging the Generational Contract, where one generation strives to hand over an intact planet to the next? How dare you ignoring the urgent warnings of climate change and its consequences for future generations? Warnings that are built on an overwhelming global scientific consensus.

The UN Climate Conference, COP 25, that followed in December in Madrid was a disappointment for many and a “lost opportunity to display increased ambition to tackle the climate crisis”, as UN secretary António Guterres stated. A disconnect between the decisions of political leaders and the expectations of the young people protesting, scientists and the urgency of the climate crisis, was palpable. The parties were unable to reach consensus in many areas, decisions were postponed into 2020. And the most recent decision by the British Prime Minister to drop Ms. Claire O’Neil as president of the COP in Glasgow raises many questions about the capability of the new UK government to make Glasgow a success.

However, there are a number of positive signals too – Many countries indicated their intention to submit an enhanced climate action plan to the UNFCCC and numerous regions and cities are already working to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. The European Union presented a European Green Deal at the COP 25 including its commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 while ensuring a just transition.  And a number of additional bold divestment decisions made the round, including the announcement of the European Investment Bank (EIB), the world’s largest public bank to divest from coal, oil, and gas. And even the Central Banks and the new Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System (NGFS)[1] agreed to be tackling the financial risk of climate change as part of their mandate.

There are also a number of rather encouraging news from the private financial sector: The CEO of Allianz SE introduced a new UN-supported climate alliance – the so-called Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance – consisting of the world’s largest pension funds and insurers, together with the Finance Initiative of the United Nations Environment (UNEP FI) and many other institutions. “Mitigating climate change is the challenge of our lifetime. Politics, business, and societies across the globe need to act as one to rapidly reduce climate emissions”, said Oliver Bäte, Allianz’s CEO at the UN General Assembly. And Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of Blackrock, world’s largest asset manager, publically stated that “Climate Change has become a defining factor in companies long-term prospects”. In a letter to CEOs he describes that the world is “on the edge of fundamental reshaping of finance” as „trillions of dollars shift to millennials over the next few decades, as they become CEOs and CIOs, as they become the policymakers and heads of state, they will further reshape the world’s approach to sustainability.“

Climate change is indeed becoming a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. At the same time, the worsening of the global climate crisis is still outpacing efforts to solve it, mainly due to the continuous combustion of fossil fuels. After all, the political outcome of the UN process clearly shows that decisive leadership is urgently needed. This especially holds for the G20 countries that caused the global climate crisis to a large extent and are still responsible for 80% of global emissions. At the same time, the G20 countries can change course and set sails for a global energy transition as they generate around 85% of the global GDP. However, under the current climate targets[2], G20 countries would emit twice as much in 2030. At present none of the G20 countries is on track for 1.5 °C. That’s why the F20 platform keeps its focus on the huge responsibility of the G20 countries.

The year 2020 is a turning point and a crucial one for the increasing of ambitions and further implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. And it’s the beginning of a decade of action – until 2030, the year by when the Sustainable Development Goals will have to be implemented.

The foundations platform F20 sees its role in taking a stand in these crucial times. We need ‘all hands on deck’ and foundations represent an important cross-sector and cross partial peer group. With more than 60 foundations, mainly from the G20 countries, we are feeding into the political debate around the G20 and UN Climate process to effectively address the most pressing global challenges of climate change, energy transition, and sustainable development. F20 builds bridges between civil society, the business and financial sectors, think tanks and politics – within the G20 countries, between them and beyond. And we certainly encourage every foundation to do the same! Again, we think we need all hands on deck and foundations are key for the transformations ahead.


[1] See: Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS);  A call for action, Climate change as a source of financial risk, April 2019  https://www.banque-france.fr/sites/default/files/media/2019/04/17/ngfs_first_comprehensive_report_-_17042019_0.pdf

[2] according to the national climate plans, the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs, set in 2015


Circle Picture



Stefan Schurig

Secretary-General of the Foundations-20 platform




F20 seeks to establish an open dialogue to highlight solutions as well as potential barriers to progress, whilst attempting to motivate other actors to initiate sustainable transformation processes.  Read more on their website: https://www.foundations-20.org/

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