The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jeff Bezos pledges $1 billion to protect 30 percent of the Earth’s land and sea

Bezos’s large donations are transforming climate philanthropy — even as Amazon’s cloud-computing business and shipping operations have a significant carbon footprint

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos spoke at the National Press Club in 2019 about the e-commerce giant's sustainability efforts. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)
Placeholder while article actions load

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos earmarked $1 billion of his $10 billion environmental philanthropy to conservation efforts Monday afternoon, aiming to protect 30 percent of the Earth’s land and sea by 2030 in an effort to prevent mass extinctions.

The Bezos Earth Fund, which he formed in 2020, did not identify any of the groups or initiatives it intends to back with the new donations. It said, in a news release, only that it will prioritize “areas that are important for biodiversity and carbon stocks and will give emphasis to the central role of local communities and Indigenous peoples in conservation efforts.” It added that the philanthropy will focus on the Congo Basin, the tropical Andes and the tropical Pacific Ocean.

“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 in a statement. “I hope this commitment inspires others to make their own pledges to protect and conserve nature and help in the fight against climate change. A job this big needs many allies.”

Jeff Bezos commits $10 billion to fight climate change

The new round of giving taps into the $10 billion Bezos previously set aside for the Earth Fund. The group intends to begin disbursing the money this year, prioritized to regions “where there is significant need and opportunity, as well as where there is a strong political commitment to nature.”

According to the Earth Fund statement, Bezos specifically targeted conserving 30 percent of land and sea because it could protect up to 80 percent of plant and animal species, secure 60 percent of necessary carbon stocks, and sustain two-thirds of clean water.

His gift received support from a handful of global dignitaries, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John F. Kerry and United Nations Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed.

Bezos’s Amazon fortune has made him the world’s second-wealthiest person, with a net worth of $200 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Only Tesla founder Elon Musk is currently worth more money. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

Despite Bezos’s growing wealth, his philanthropy has lagged behind that of his peers. He hasn’t signed the Giving Pledge, founded by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in 2010, which calls on billionaires to pledge the majority of their wealth to charity. But he has increased his philanthropic efforts in recent years, donating scholarships and creating a fund for preschools and homeless families, in addition to his environmental giving.

Bezos stepped down as Amazon chief executive in July, taking on the newly created role of executive chair, days before he soared past the edge of space in the rocket that his company, Blue Origin, developed.

Bezos and Amazon have long been targets for environmental activists, who point to the massive carbon footprint of the airplanes, trucks and vans that race to deliver packages to Amazon customers within a day or two. And the threat from the company’s emissions grows as its e-commerce booms, fueled by online shoppers reluctant to visit stores in person during the coronavirus pandemic.

Amazon’s big holiday shopping advantage: An in-house shipping network swollen by pandemic-fueled growth

Critics also point to the company’s market-leading cloud-computing business, Amazon Web Services, which consumes vast amounts of electricity to operate its giant data centers that dot the globe, including facilities in Northern Virginia. The company has faced pressure from a group of its own workers — Amazon Employees for Climate Justice — who want it to walk away from lucrative cloud-computing contracts that help energy companies accelerate oil and gas extraction.

To address climate concerns, Amazon came up with its own emissions-reporting regimen called the Climate Pledge, an initiative introduced in 2019 to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years early. Bezos unveiled the initiative after Amazon, for years, resisted revealing its environmental impact through CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project — a widely used framework for corporate reporting.

At the time, critics questioned the need for the new initiative, given that carbon-reporting standards already existed, even if Amazon didn’t participate in them. Even so, Amazon has busily added new companies to the Climate Pledge roster. Proctor & Gamble, HP and Salesforce joined Monday, while Microsoft and Unilever signed on last December. The initiative now claims more than 200 signatories.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces new ‘Climate Pledge’ ahead of employee protests

Amazon has also put its marketing muscle behind the Climate Pledge effort, buying naming rights for the National Hockey League facility in Seattle, now known as Climate Pledge Arena.

Jeff Bezos stepping down as Amazon CEO, transitioning to executive chair role

Ultimately, Bezos remains among the world’s largest contributors to climate philanthropy. Some others include Mike Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and presidential candidate, who has given more than $100 million to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign to press for the closure of coal plants, and nearly $6 million in 2017 to a New York University School of Law center to help state attorneys general challenge the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental rules.

Marc Benioff, who founded Salesforce, a business-software vendor, has given millions to the University of California at Santa Barbara to launch the Benioff Ocean Initiative, aimed at curbing marine pollution, overfishing and coral bleaching. The widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Laurene Powell Jobs, along with actor Leonardo DiCaprio and billionaire investor Brian Sheth, launched Earth Alliance to protect ecosystems and wildlife and support renewable energy, among other goals.

And Bill Gates has led a for-profit initiative, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which runs a $1 billion fund focused on climate-mitigation technologies that require massive investments and could take years to produce profits, such as battery and grid storage technologies. The group’s backers include Bezos and Bloomberg, among others.