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Tackling climate change at grassroots level

More than 2.6 million Australians endure temperatures in Western Sydney that are up to 10.5C hotter than Eastern Sydney.

The issue is partly caused by urban design, such as a lack of trees, while its location at the foothills of the Blue Mountains is far from coastal breezes and acts as a natural heat trap.

Supporting such communities such as these – who are working together through the Sweltering Cities project – is a key goal of Climate Action Network Australia (CANA).

“What we've realised is the absolute need for the community to drive that political advocacy,” says CANA CEO Glen Klatovsky. “People tend to be influenced by their peers and friends, not a scientist or economist on the radio.”

Sweltering Cities is one of dozens of organisations that have received funding of up to $10,000 though CANA’s Small Grants program in recent years. Sweltering Cities has produced significant research showing the impact of climate change on Western Sydney residents and – using its most recent CANA grant – trained 100 local community members to lobby the State Government.

“For a $6,500 grant, Sweltering Cities delivered a really sophisticated campaign to influence decision makers through community action. That small investment made a substantial difference and allowed them to do work additional to what they would have been able to do.”

CANA has also supported other small groups that are tackling climate change at a grassroots level, such as Vets for Climate Change. They advocate for climate action while helping veterinary practices reduce emissions, improve environmental sustainability, and learn why climate change is a crucial animal health and welfare issue.

“A lot of these vets are based in regional Australia. They look after animal herds, so you get quite a different group of people who advocate for action on climate change and who have great respect in the community, including with decision-makers,” Klatovsky says.

The outsized impact of CANA’s Small Grants program shows philanthropy doesn’t always require large donations to make a difference. The Small Grants Program is funded by the Robert Hicks Foundation, which is managed by Equity Trustees.

Klatovsky says CANA’s membership has almost doubled over the last three years, from around 85 to more than 150 as the public has embraced the need for climate action.

“That demonstrates growth in climate action and advocacy – more and more Australians are concerned about the issue. It also demonstrates that our members feel our ability to bring them together and add value is worthwhile.”

Larger organisations can reach smaller organisations and communities through CANA, creating a greater collective impact, while smaller organisations can access campaign resources, research and data those larger organisations have the capacity to produce.

“We all support each other, share and collaborate for greater impact."