Jeff Bezos’ Earth Fund commits another $443 million to climate justice and conservation

On Monday, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced his Earth Funds last subsidy round: $443 million to be spent primarily on land conservation and restoration and efforts to reduce the environmental burden on marginalized communities.

This year, the fund has committed more than $3 billion to similar initiatives. By 2020, Bezos pledged to spend $10 billion — about 5 percent of his current net worth — on tackling climate change this decade.

From its inception, the Bezos Earth Fund has dealt with criticism, especially from some grassroots environmental groups. In the beginning, Bezos mainly funded large environmental groups with historically white leadership and relatively large budgets rather than supporting more indigenous and people of color community groups, critics pointed out. Other criticism has centered on how Amazon, the e-commerce giant that founded Bezos, continues to pollute neighborhoods and emit more and more greenhouse gases.

Since that early backlash, environmental justice — a movement to prevent pollution and environmental degradation from disproportionately harming low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and other vulnerable groups — has become a bigger part of the Bezos Earth Fund’s messages. The fund’s latest round of funding is earmarking $130 million for 19 different organizations that “doing critical work on climate justice.It follows another $150 million pledged to climate justice groups in September.

The $130 million for environmental justice in this latest round of funding is intended to support the Biden administration Justice40 Initiative. Shortly after taking office in January, Biden created the initiative through a executive order to ensure that “disadvantaged communities” receive 40 percent of the “general benefits” from federal investments in clean energy and climate action.

Bezos’ beneficiaries include a wide variety of groups that are either collecting data to inform policy making, helping disadvantaged communities become more resilient to climate change, supporting tribes and indigenous communities, or planning training programs for the Justice40 initiative. For example, GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to solar energy, is getting $12 million for its Tribal Solar Accelerator Fund.

The latest funding announcement also includes $261 million allocated to the international initiative to conserve 30 percent of the Earth’s land and oceans by 2030. That will focus on creating, expanding and monitoring so-called “protected areas” – mainly in the Congo Basin and the tropical Andes. According to the Bezos Earth Fund, the grants will create 11 million hectares of newly protected areas in the Congo Basin, which is home to 70 percent of Africa’s forests. In the tropical Andes, another important carbon sink for the planet, the subsidies will convert an estimated 48 million hectares into protected areas.

Forests and other ecosystems are extremely important in the fight against climate change because they trap and store carbon dioxide, keeping it out of the atmosphere. But the creation of new protected areas, especially if not carefully implemented, can harm local communities. There is a documented history of conservation efforts forcing indigenous peoples of their land to create national parks. The World Wildlife Fund, one of Bezos’ beneficiaries, was recently accused of failing to take responsibility for human rights violations during a hearing of the United States Congress. That followed a Buzzfeed news research in 2019, it emerged that WWF-funded park rangers had been charged with murder, torture and rape.

The Bezos Earth Fund says the newly protected areas will help “secure” local communities’ rights to 24 million acres of land. It is also spending another $25 million to kick-start a new kind of “global mechanism” that could get “support” for indigenous peoples and local communities. Forests generally do better under their care, Research show. There is also an additional $51 million to restore landscapes in the US and Africa.

Closer to home for Bezos, Amazon was implicated in a recent report as having an “outsized” role in the port congestion and associated shipping pollution along the US west coast. And despite Amazon’s commitments to address climate change, the company’s carbon footprint remains grew by almost 20 percent in 2020.