Our most impactful year yet Explore our 2023 Impact Report

Scaling for maximal climate impact: the end-of-year update from Founders Pledge Climate

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▲ Photo by Qingbao Meng on Unsplash

This piece gives a brief update on the highlights of the Founders Pledge Climate team in 2023. For those curious for more, we link to in-depth materials throughout.

We focus on two themes: the scaling of our effort and the frontiers of our current grantmaking.

As always you can give to the Founders Pledge Climate Fund and we will allocate your contributions with the goal of maximal climate impact by the research described below, donate to the Climate Change Fund.

Scaling team and tools for tons of impact

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The big theme of 2023 was scale: we tripled the full-time team, hiring Dr. Megan Phelan, an expert for techno-economic analysis, and Dr. Aishwarya Saxena, an expert for carbon lock-in in emerging economies, to join our team. Luisa Sandkühler, our research assistant focused on data analysis, also joined us with more hours.

Megan’s work elucidates how technology and policy interact and what this implies for philanthropic prioritization. Aishwarya’s work grapples with the reality that the vast majority of future emissions will originate in emerging economies, seeking to find cost-effective interventions that avert emissions without reducing energy access. Luisa’s work analyzes the blindspots in our common climate response, ensuring our attention goes where it is most needed.

Together we’re building a suite of decision-supporting tools to bring to life our vision of credible high-impact grant-making in the climate space – a space characterized by large uncertainties requiring methodological advances to make confident statements about achieving high impact.

This includes a tool to model the effect of different innovation advocacy opportunities based on characteristics of the technologies, a tool to analyze emissions streams and model carbon lock-in interventions (here we are also indebted to our alumna, Violet Buxton-Walsh) and a tool to analyze philanthropy data to estimate funding additionality and neglectedness.

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The tools we are building are always comparative, always represent uncertainty, and are meant to be jointly comprehensive – integrating key considerations that are relevant to evaluate a funding opportunity’s expected cost-effectiveness.

We cannot wait to share them more fully with the world.

In April, Johannes explained this vision and our view on all things climate on the 80,000 Hours Podcast — shorter version on Spotify here — our most extensive podcast to date (audio, 2.5h). Just a week ago, we presented the current status of our work at EAGx Virtual (video, 30 min without Q&A), which is extended in our brand-new methodology update "How We Think About Expected Impact in Climate Philanthropy".

Equipped with the enlarged team and tools, we have been strongly increasing the speed of our grant-making and advising, expecting to recommend more than USD $10 million in the second half of 2023 alone (see below). We’re excited about tons of impact, or rather impact of avoided tons.

Funding Frontiers

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As we are growing and as the climate landscape changes, we are exploring an increasing number of promising theories of change. We are willing to consider theories of change whenever they have a potential for outsized impact and are currently considering (ordered by amount of current grantmaking):

  • Driving Innovation, accelerating the development and commercialization of low-carbon technologies through targeted advocacy aimed at improving innovation efforts in jurisdictions with high innovation capacity.
  • Avoiding Carbon Lock-In, ensuring that long-lived infrastructure investments are as low-carbon as possible and that we pursue credible paths to decarbonize otherwise committed emissions, e.g. from young coal plants in emerging Asia.
  • Catalyzing promising organizations, growing small organizations to scale enabling them to leverage climate philanthropy at large.
  • Mitigating political risk, ensuring that there is robust support for the most important climate policies and that climate policy is robust to different partisan outcomes.
  • Paradigm Shaping, introducing new ideas into the discourse that can shape policy and other action in the long run (in case this sounds abstract, see e.g. grant here).
  • Policy Leadership, advocating for policies in key jurisdictions that would have a chance to spread internationally.

With regards to our grantmaking in high-income countries, where future emissions are low but ability and willingness to invest in climate solutions is high, we have traditionally prioritized targeted innovation interventions – supporting organizations that make specific asks to improve the innovation response, such as upscaling support for carbon removal (Carbon180), CCS, hydrogen, geothermal & nuclear (CATF) and nuclear and coal repowering with advanced heat sources (TerraPraxis). We have also invested in European decarbonization work (Future Cleantech Architects) and are seeking to expand this work further by increasing involvement in Europe (Carbon-Free Europe) and Canada (Cascade Institute).

Because we believe that the value of additional targeted asks decreases in the US – there is less to easily improve with the passage of several major climate bills (IIJA, CHIPS, IRA) – while the overall US climate policy response has become a lot more valuable, incubating many promising bets, we are now also supporting interventions focused on protecting and improving the broader system response. Our first foray into this work is our support for DEPLOY/US, a bipartisan organization seeking to grow credible bipartisan climate coalitions including the center-right (more on this in an upcoming update on our view of the US landscape).

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Our work on emerging economies has similarly broadened, expanding from an initial focus of helping CATF to become a truly global organization and scaling its tech-inclusive decarbonization work more globally, to the support of organizations focused on addressing committed emissions through coal repowering (Quantified Carbon, Tsinghua University), and expanding to work targeting improved regulation in electricity markets in emerging economies to accelerate clean energy deployment (Energy for Growth Hub).

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Onwards

2023 has been an exciting year, seeing the success of past grants, spending more than USD 10 million through the Climate Fund and closely advised giving on the highest-impact opportunities we could find, and seeding future successes through investing in a growing team and a suite of tools.

So, it is safe to say that 2023 was our best year yet. And that is a safe bet that 2024 will be better still, as we continue to scale our integrated research and grantmaking agenda to maximize the impact of the resources we are entrusted with. Onwards!


About the author

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Johannes Ackva

Climate Lead

Johannes has dedicated much of his adult life to this topic. From a teenage environmental activist to a climate policy expert advising major EU decision makers, Johannes is committed to solving the problem of global energy poverty, while simultaneously reaching net-zero emissions and protecting our planet.

Prior to joining Founder Pledge, Johannes spent five years working in a think tank advising decision makers on climate policy, and conducting academic research into the intersection between effective and feasible climate policies.