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Originally published April 2, 2011 at 7:59 PM | Page modified April 2, 2011 at 7:59 PM

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Nonprofits examine climate-change roles

Global climate change and its impact are creating new challenges for international development, compelling people who fund such work to rethink their strategies, said speakers at the Pacific Northwest Global Donors Conference, held Friday and Saturday in Seattle.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Last year the Global Greengrants Fund added a new category to its budget: climate disasters.

The nonprofit, which focuses on environmental issues, acknowledged that the increasing severity of earthquakes, hurricanes and other related disasters needs more attention and funding.

The impact from global climate change is creating new challenges for international development, compelling people who fund such work to rethink their strategies, said speakers at the Pacific Northwest Global Donors Conference, held Friday and Saturday in Seattle.

From the world's largest charitable organization to a nonprofit that gives small grants to grass-roots groups, philanthropists are seeing the effects of a changing climate on agriculture, food and public health.

Monika Zurek, program officer in Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called climate change a "threat multiplier," because it hits the most vulnerable in the world who subsist largely on farming.

Greenhouse gas

Agriculture, combined with deforestation for planting crops and methane gas produced by cow manure, is also a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions — more than transportation or industry, she said.

Zurek, formerly a resource economist at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, has studied how future environmental changes will affect people.

As dry areas become drier and wet areas wetter, Africa will experience more droughts and floods, she said. Northern and southern parts of the continent will be hotter and drier, while sea levels will rise in West Africa and the Nile Delta.

Philanthropy can play a role in funding solutions that help people adapt, such as weather monitoring and early-warning systems and insurance, Zurek said.

Terry Odendahl, executive director of Global Greengrants Fund, said her organization is also making grants to strengthen civil-society groups, which can help address conflicts over water and land and advocate for equal access to resources.

Michael Lazarus, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute and a career environmentalist, said the new torch bearers on climate issues are now those working on energy security and global health.

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He also pointed to two new philanthropic organizations targeting the problem: the Climate Policy Institute and Climate Works, which aims to influence policy in countries such as China and India.

Howard Frumkin, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, said climate change has now become a key health issue.

He pointed to urban heat waves, such as the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed tens of thousands, and increasing air pollution from higher ozone levels in cities.

Diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are expanding their range along with more tropical weather conditions. Rising temperatures are also causing changes in the food and water supply, such as harmful algae blooms.

Not top priority

Despite its wide-ranging effects, climate change is not a top policy priority for the American public, Frumkin said. He cited a Pew Research study showing economy, jobs and terrorism as the top issues, and global warming at the bottom, just above obesity.

If nonprofits decide to get involved in causes related to climate change, they would be better off talking about green jobs, energy independence or local food production, he said.

Anne Mize, president of the Mize Family Foundation, said one problem has been that "climate specialists preach rather than tell stories about success."

To be more effective, the new message is: "Don't chastise, give tools for change."

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or kheim@seattletimes.com

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