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  • Nicole Richards

Keeping an environmental focus in a Covid-19 world

For the last six months, Australia has contended with one debilitating crisis after another: drought, bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic. Each one a game changer, forcing us to take stock and reflect upon the way we live upon this continent and what we take from the planet.

So many of us felt the shift in public sentiment at the time of the fires, the harrowing pictures reconnecting us with our innate love for the Australian bush and our unique wildlife. We sensed the momentum and heard the groundswell of new voices demanding meaningful action to address the climate crisis.

In the months since, some of us have wondered if those gains have been lost; concerned that the coronavirus crisis will trump the climate crisis.

As we continue to grapple with the health and economic impacts of Covid-19, one thing the pandemic has powerfully, even painfully, reinforced is just how interconnected we all are.

Social distancing and the absence of hugs forced us to find new ways to stay connected with loved ones; green spaces have provided valuable respite during lockdown; closed borders and fewer planes in the sky have given the earth breathing space. We’ve seen how our individual actions and interactions have the potential to affect all of humanity.

Coivd-19 may have usurped global attention and headlines, but it has not derailed the conversation about climate. In fact, it may have brought it into sharper focus, with global warming expected to increase the incidence of infectious disease and the possibility of more pandemics.

As we ponder what life post-pandemic might look like, the interconnectivity of health, economic recovery and our environment is already shaping public debates.

This month’s Stimulus Summit: A Renewables-Led Economic Recovery attracted a reported audience of more than 2,500 people from across Australia who listened to state energy ministers, climate leaders, academics, non-profit and business leaders dive into the public debate about government stimulus packages, climate change action and the central role of decarbonisation in Australia’s economic recovery post-pandemic.

The way we lived in 2019 will not be the way we live in 2021 and therein lies tremendous opportunity.

The moment has not been lost.

Our environmental NGOs, think tanks, businesses and even our governments, particularly at state and territory level, are poised to transition our country towards a more sustainable future. They are ready to activate the levers of stimulus and investment that have the potential to rebuild our economic foundations around a low-carbon footprint.

Philanthropy’s role in maintaining that momentum and accelerating the transition to a cleaner, greener economy cannot be underestimated. This moment is not about restoring old systems but creating new ones.

Philanthropy is uniquely placed to play a catalytic role as risk capital that enables new thinking, new conversations and new partnerships between the public, private and non-profit sectors.

Our climate, flora and fauna, our water systems, forests and soils must be at the heart of those discussions, not an afterthought, as our leaders look to build resilient systems.

The Federal Government’s recent changes to incentivise additional giving by public and private ancillary funds are an opportunity for Australia’s philanthropists to ensure environmental voices are present in all discussions about economic recovery.

Precious philanthropic support will help our climate leaders and environmental organisations continue to reach for their goals and achieve their missions. With charitable giving tipped to fall by 20 per cent this financial year and next, philanthropy will help keep the lights on in a time of unprecedented fundraising and donor uncertainty.

Philanthropy is the fuel that can enable our environmental advocates to seize and leverage the potential of this transformative moment.

We know that environmental funders are in this for the long game, recognising that crisis response and advocacy are two sides of the same recovery equation.

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