Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and one of the richest men in the world, on Monday announced plans 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 biggest philanthropic effort, the Bezos Earth Fund, to which he pledged $ 10 billion last year. “By pairing ourselves with the right focus and ingenuity, we can enjoy both the benefits of our modern life 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 press release from the fund, which also introduced a website on Monday.
The initiative aims to support an international campaign to protect at least 30% of Earth’s land and water by 2030, known as 30×30. The plan, led by Britain, Costa Rica and France, aims to help tackle a global biodiversity crisis that puts a million species of plants and animals at risk of extinction. While climate change is part of the problem, activities like agriculture and fishing have been even bigger drivers of biodiversity loss. The 30×30 plan would attempt to slow this down by protecting unspoiled natural areas like old growth forests and wetlands, which not only nurture biodiversity but also store carbon and filter water.
As the plan gained momentum, one of the sticking points was money to help developing countries participate. Some of these nations are much richer in biodiversity than the richer nations, many of which have already exploited their ancient forests and other ecosystems for profit.
Mr Bezos has pledged to donate the full $ 10 billion by 2030, within a decade of his announcement of the Bezos Earth Fund.
When he first presented his fund’s plan, skeptics noted that for all the headlines it was little more than a promise to donate money. Over the past year and a half, the initiative has started to take shape.
The first big step came in November, when Mr. Bezos announced donations of $ 791 million to a range of traditional environmental and conservation organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund. . Critics of the grants saw them as very conventional, but proponents said the largest and best-known groups were those who could absorb larger sums of money quickly.
Then, in March, Bezos announced that he had hired Andrew Steer, who at the time headed the World Resources Institute, a research organization, as chairman and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund. According to his new website, Mr. Bezos’ girlfriend Lauren Sanchez is the fund’s vice president.
This month, the fund gave $ 20 million to four groups focused on climate justice, as part of a pledge to give to these groups $ 150 million by the end of the year.
The grants announced on Monday will prioritize regions and countries where “local communities and indigenous peoples are at the heart of conservation programs,” the fund said. Whether the 30×30 effort provides Indigenous communities with a sufficiently important role in conservation efforts is one that community leaders and academics have raised.
The announcement called the $ 1 billion commitment “the first of a three-pronged strategy for nature” and said there would be future commitments in “landscape restoration and transformation of the land. food system ”.
Amazon – with its fleets of trucks and planes crisscrossing the country and the world, its branded boxes piling up on sidewalks on recycling day, and its vast data centers gobbling up electricity – has become an increasing target. more frequent by climate advocates, including internally. Employees urged the company to do something about its contributions to emissions and global warming, organizing walkouts and speaking publicly about how it could improve.
In 2019, Amazon pledged to reach the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years ahead of time by achieving carbon neutrality by 2040.
Mr Bezos stepped down as chief executive this year and said he wanted time to focus on other commitments. For many years, philanthropy was not one of his main interests. He has long preferred to focus on Amazon and other private companies, especially rocket company Blue Origin, which sent Mr. Bezos on a brief flight into space in July. He also owns the Washington Post.
“I had heard that seeing Earth from space changes our perspective on the world,” he said at the event on Monday, “but I was not prepared to see how it was true.”
In 2018, Mr Bezos and his then-wife MacKenzie Scott pledged $ 2 billion to launch a network of Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities and to help homeless families. It was his most important engagement so far.
Then, in February 2020, Mr. Bezos made the $ 10 billion climate change and conservation pledge. He announced the Bezos Earth Fund in an Instagram post, stating: “Climate change is the greatest threat to our planet. “
Catherine Einhorn and Karen weise contributed reports.