• The San Juan Daily Star

Bezos puts $1 billion of $10 billion climate pledge into conservation

By Nicholas Kulish

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and one of the world’s richest men, announced plans Monday for $1 billion in conservation spending in places like the Congo Basin, the Andes and tropical parts of the Pacific Ocean.

The announcement was the latest step in his largest philanthropic effort, the Bezos Earth Fund, to which he pledged $10 billion last year. “By coming together with the right focus and ingenuity, we can have both the benefits of our modern lives and a thriving natural world,” Bezos said Monday at an event in New York.

The money will be used “to create, expand, manage and monitor protected and conserved areas,” according to a news release from the fund, which also introduced a website Monday.

The initiative is intended to support an international push to safeguard at least 30% of Earth’s lands and waters by 2030, known as 30x30. The plan, led by Britain, Costa Rica and France, is intended to help tackle a global biodiversity crisis that puts 1 million species of plants and animals at risk of extinction. While climate change is part of the problem, activities like farming and fishing have been even bigger drivers of biodiversity loss. The 30x30 plan would try to slow that by protecting intact natural areas like old-growth forests and wetlands, which not only nurture biodiversity but also store carbon and filter water.

As the plan has gained momentum, one sticking point has been money to help developing countries participate. Some of these nations are far richer in biodiversity than wealthier nations, many of which have already exploited their old-growth forests and other ecosystems for profit.

Bezos has promised to give away the full $10 billion by 2030, within a decade of his announcement of the Bezos Earth Fund.

When he first presented the plan for his fund, skeptics noted that for all the headlines, it was little more than a promise to give money away. Over the past year and a half, the initiative has begun to take shape.

The first big move came in November, when Bezos announced $791 million in donations to a collection of mainstream environmental and conservation organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund. Critics of the grants viewed them as highly conventional, but supporters said the bigger, better-known groups were the ones that could absorb larger sums of money quickly.

Then in March, Bezos announced that he had hired Andrew Steer, who at the time led the World Resources Institute, a research organization, as the president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund. According to its new website, Bezos’ girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, is vice chair of the fund.

This month, the fund gave $20 million to four groups focused on climate justice, part of a commitment to give such groups $150 million by the end of the year.

The grants announced Monday will put a priority on regions and countries where “local communities and Indigenous peoples are placed at the heart of conservation programs,” the fund said. Whether the 30x30 effort offers Indigenous communities a large enough role in conservation efforts is a question that community leaders and scholars have raised.

The announcement called the $1 billion commitment “the first of a three-part nature strategy,” and said there would be future commitments in “landscape restoration and on food system transformation.”

Amazon — with its fleets of trucks and planes crisscrossing the country and the globe, its branded boxes piling up on curbs on recycling day and its vast data centers gobbling electricity — has become a more and more frequent target of climate advocates, including internally. Employees pressed the company to do something about its contributions to emissions and global warming, staging walkouts and talking publicly about how it could improve.

In 2019, Amazon committed to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years ahead of schedule by reaching carbon neutrality by 2040.

Bezos stepped down as CEO this year and said he wanted time to focus on other commitments. For many years, philanthropy was not one of his main interests. He long preferred to focus on Amazon and other private ventures, especially the rocket company Blue Origin, which sent Bezos on a brief flight into space in July. He also owns The Washington Post.

“I’d heard that seeing the Earth from space changes one’s point of view of the world,” he said at the event Monday, “but I was not prepared for just how much that was true.”

In 2018, Bezos and his wife at the time, MacKenzie Scott, pledged $2 billion to start a network of Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities and to help homeless families. It was his largest commitment up to that point.

Then in February 2020, Bezos made the $10 billion pledge on climate change and conservation. He announced the Bezos Earth Fund in a post on Instagram, saying, “Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet.”

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