U.S.-China foundations find common ground on climate change

Society & Culture

Raising environmental awareness is one area that the Chinese government recognizes as a long-term collective endeavor, requiring widespread social participation and public education.

A coal-burning power plant can be seen behind a factory in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Photo via REUTERS/David Gray

Despite geopolitical tensions, philanthropic cooperation on environmental and climate challenges has remained an area of constant, constructive collaboration between the U.S. and China. While Chinese giving on environmental protection remains low domestically, raising environmental awareness is one area that the Chinese government recognizes as a long-term collective endeavor, requiring widespread social participation and public education, making it a comparative strength for foundations to pursue.

Below are a few examples of successful, environmental-focused foundations and initiatives that have been launched in collaboration with philanthropic partners that span the U.S. and China.

U.S. foundations

California-China Climate Institute

  • Launched in September 2019 by former California Governor Jerry Brown and supported by both U.S. and China philanthropy, the California-China Climate Institute was established to advance research into low-carbon technology to fight climate change.
  • In November 2020, the Institute held a joint dialogue with Guangdong Province, organized in collaboration with The China Institute for Innovation & Development Strategy (CIIDS). These efforts built on the first high-level United States-China subnational climate dialogue held during the Global Climate Action Summit in 2018, hosted by the State of California and Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Rockefeller Brothers Fund

  • Rockefeller Brothers Fund established its China-focused grantmaking program in 2005 with an emphasis on southern China, with a goal to assist Chinese-led efforts domestically by engaging with and fostering collaborations among the government, business, civil society, and academia.
  • In 2016, the Fund launched the Richard Rockefeller Fellowship in partnership with the Lao Niu Brother & Sister Foundation to support the development of emerging Chinese professionals who are poised to make a significant commitment to the development of strategic philanthropy in China.
  • The Serica Initiative honored David and Susan Rockefeller for their long-time contributions to U.S.-China philanthropy at our Inaugural Serica Initiative Gala on February 4th. Watch their full remarks here.

Paulson Institute

  • The Paulson Institute is supporting China’s efforts to find market-based solutions for its transition to a low-carbon economy by advising on the establishment of a private sector fund and piloting projects in green insurance to promote transparent and world class standards in the green finance sector.
  • The Paulson Institute established the U.S.-China Green Fund in 2015 to “invest and green China” while striving to foster greater U.S.-China collaboration for sustainable development in China. Its innovative approach brings U.S. clean technology to use in seeking greater energy efficiencies in China and, in its second year, total sales of U.S. green technology and products made through its portfolio companies reached 160 million RMB ($24.6 million).
  • The Serica Initiative hosted a roundtable discussion with Damien Ma, Director of The Paulson Institute think tank MacroPolo, and other speakers at the Inaugural Serica Initiative Gala on February 4th. Watch the full roundtable discussion here.

Chinese foundations

SEE Foundation

  • The SEE (Society of Entrepreneurs & Ecology) Foundation was established in 2008 with the mission of supporting and nurturing Chinese environmental civil society organizations, and to facilitate a learning platform for entrepreneurs, NGOs, and the public to engage in environmental protection and sustainable development.
  • In 2013, the Foundation started a “Growing Up Together” program (劲草同行) to nurture grassroots ENGOs. This program offers newly established ENGOs 300,000 RMB ($46,000) per year in financial support for three consecutive years, and also provides them with organizational mentorship from successful entrepreneurs. Between 2013 and 2016, GUT provided 34 newly established grassroots ENGOs with 8 million RMB ($1.23 million) in funding.

Guangdong Harmony Foundation

  • The Guangdong Harmony Foundation works in collaboration with community actors to inspire participation in community development, explore sustainable solutions to environmental challenges, and promote a more just development of society.
  • The Guangdong Harmony Foundation, along with several other foundations, established the China Environmental Grantmakers Alliance (中国环境资助者网络) in Beijing in 2018. China Environmental Grantmakers Alliance (CEGA) provides a cooperation and exchange platform for Chinese environmental funders. According to its initial annual report, in 2018 CEGA provided 325 million RMB ($50 million) in grants to fund environmental projects carried out by ENGOs and environmental research organizations.

Paradise International Foundation

  • Paradise International Foundation originally started out in response to a call among Chinese leading entrepreneurs, artists and philanthropists, and works to support the local implementation of conservation projects around the world.
  • In 2019, Paradise launched the Blue Initiative Fund (BIF), with support from U.S. and Chinese philanthropists. BIF provides annual grants to universities, research institutes, and NGO leaders in marine science research, public education, conservation, and advocacy.


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