The shift from a ‘reader pays’ to an ‘author pays’ model of scientific publishing presents a financial threat to environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs). Many of these support, conduct and publish applied research on real-world solutions to the planet’s most pressing challenges. Funded mainly by donations, eNGOs must now choose between taking conservation action and publishing more research papers.

A more equitable publishing system is needed. Platinum and diamond open access (see L. Barnes Open Book Publishers; 2018), financed by a third party such as a scientific society, avoid article-processing charges (APCs) for authors and paywalls for readers, and can offer the lowest-cost option for eNGOs. Alternatively, journals could offer APC waivers for authors at eNGOs.

Discussions at this year’s United Nations biodiversity conference (COP15) and climate-change conference (COP26) are informed by eNGO research. Mandatory APCs risk pricing eNGOs out of scientific publishing at a time when their research output is most urgently needed.