The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) reported this week that climate change is happening faster than predicted. Every day the media publishes stories like this, highlighting the scientific and policy achievements made by groups like NWF, a U.S. non-profit. It’s amazing what non-profits, think tanks, and NGOs can accomplish in terms of science, policy, and grass-roots initiatives in climate change.
Engaging in a valuable service that governments alone can’t shoulder, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change conducts its own climate change research. Its recent report on U.S.-China climate cooperation (in sidebar) blends original research with policy recommendations. Climate Central, a U.S. NGO, uses savvy communications and media to bring science to the public in an understandable way. In early 2009, the NGO joined with The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment tapping into its faculty of scientists. Together, their plans include developing easily understandable outreach programs and media productions for the general public, including informing policy makers, that are based on global climate change scientific research.
However, opponents of climate change are rife and strong. For example, U.S. and British scientists attacked ExxonMobil for its role in funding dozens of nonprofits devoted to climate change denial, which it engaged in despite purporting biodiversity conservation efforts on its website. It’s understandable that big oil companies like ExxonMobil would fear climate change efforts in order to keep their dollars and oil flowing and this case exposes how the NPO/NGO public image as nonpartisan and impartial entities can be and is exploited. Thankfully, other non-profits are stepping up with ad campaigns and lobbying efforts such as the Environmental Defense Action Fund, NRDC, and even smaller organizations like 1Sky.
In general, NGOs often function with minimal interference from exploitative influences and provide direct services that complement and stand in for government efforts. Groups like Atlanta-based CARE, an international NGO focusing on global poverty, often show more progress-per-dollar than their official counterparts. In Northern Ghana, CARE works directly with women and marginalized communities to mitigate their vulnerability to climate change, which will affect the poor the most even though they are contributing the least to its cause. Challenge to Change, a British NGO that works primarily in Vietnam, helps communities adapt to climate change and cope with severe weather. In Quang Tri province on the coast and the mountainous Ha Giang province, Challenge to Change provides typhoon and flood relief, raises awareness and works with Vietnamese NGOs towards bottom-up, social justice solutions.