Alberta panel studying foreign funding of environmentalists is necessary

Special to Financial Post Jack Mintz

Foreign climate philanthropists, fossil fuel companies, tech companies, unions and governments should not be using their money to influence voters

The Alberta government announced this past a week a $2.5-million panel to study the influence of foreign funding on Canadian environmental policy issues. Compared to the unprecedented planned spend of $4 billion by 29 U.S.-based philanthropic institutions over the next five years on climate philanthropy, this is a drop in the bucket.

Already, the critics are criticizing Alberta’s panel as a waste of money with unclear goals in mind. This doesn’t hold up. It is about time Alberta put together an analysis on foreign funding so that it may develop appropriate policies to protect its own interests as owners of a valuable resource. Perhaps the panel might also dispel some notions that are currently in vogue.

While much press has been paid to Vivian Krause’s detailed look at foreign funding of environmental groups in Canada, the panel should also pay attention to philanthropic political influence in general.

Compared to total climate spending, U.S. foundations spend less than one per cent of the US$410 billion expenditure on climate-related activities (climate-related technologies for businesses and governments, university research, advocacy and developing economy grants are by far larger). Charities, however, can have an outsized influence on political debates over climate change, both on the left and right side of politics. Bloomberg Philanthropies, for example, funded an event involving well-known international donors at the One Planet Summit in December 2017 that highlighted the importance of foundations in their primary role as advocates of climate-change actions alongside governments and NGOs.

Michael Bloomberg, now worth US$63 billion, has also shown that strategic funding can play an influential role in climate policy advocacy. Through Bloomberg Philanthropies, he has funded the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University Law School that places lawyers in the offices of state attorneys-general to assist with “administrative, judicial or legislative matters involving clean energy, climate change and environmental interests of regional or national significance.” The centre reports biweekly to its founder on its influence, such as its role in Virginia’s attorney general’s office in choosing to advance the green-agenda interests of the donor. This in itself raises public policy concerns.


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