Foundations and philanthropists should use endowments worth billions to help combat climate change, according to a coalition of 160 environmentalists.

The group of environmentalists hail form 44 countries and are all winners of major environmental awards. “We, 160 winners of the world’s environmental prizes, call on foundations and philanthropists everywhere to deploy their endowments immediately in the effort to save civilisation,” state the signatories. “The world’s philanthropic foundations, given the scale of their endowments, hold the power to trigger a survival reflex in society, so greatly helping those negotiating the climate treaty.”

The call for action has been timed to coincide with the upcoming UN Climate Summit in New York later this month. 

The European Environment Foundation – who organised the climate declaration – will write to large foundations individually, calling on them to use their financial muscle to address climate change by investing directly in clean energy companies and low-carbon projects; withdrawing investments from fossil fuel companies or campaigning as shareholders for them not to develop new reserves; and by making grants to support clean energy start-ups and stimulate the development of low-carbon markets. 

Dr Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund and a leader of the coalition, explained why the group is calling for action. She said: “The escalating climate crisis threatens the programmes of every philanthropic organisation. Growing numbers of foundations are shifting their money from fossil fuels to clean energy so their investments help solve this crisis instead of contributing to it.”

The group ran a full page advert in the New York Times to help raise awareness. The ad warned that the world is “heading for 4C to 6C of global warming, given current policies on the burning of coal, oil and gas”. It continues that the signatories are “terrified that we will lose our ability to feed ourselves, run out of potable water, increase the scope for war, and cause the very fabric of civilisation to crash.”

Jeremy Leggett, who coordinated the declaration, said: “The world’s philanthropic foundations fund work which improves the lives of millions of people around the world, but if they want that work to last they can’t afford to ignore climate change. Investing in a clean energy future is the best way to safeguard their work and their finances.”

The UK government recently stated that a global climate deal brokered in Paris 2015 would make tackling climate change “much easier”.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) set out its vision for a global climate deal, arguing that a deal would not only be good for the UK but needed to halt the impacts of climate change globally.    

The government argues that a global agreement would give a decisive political signal that “the future is low carbon” – encouraging the opening of new markets and the continued investment in low carbon technologies.

“You can go green and continue to prosper and develop – that is the strong message we will be taking to the global community in the coming months,” explained Ed Davey, energy and climate change secretary.

The environmental laureates have warned that “Paris Climate Summit may be the last chance to agree a treaty capable of saving civilisation”. However, they believe that foundations and philanthropists hold the key to increasing negotiators’ chance of success by providing resources to capable of a scaled response.