On Monday, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced the latest round of grants from his Earth Fund: $ 443 million to be spent primarily on land conservation and restoration and efforts to reduce environmental burdens on land. marginalized communities.
This year, the fund pledged more than $ 3 billion for similar initiatives. In 2020, Bezos pledged to devote $ 10 billion – roughly 5% of his current net worth – to tackling climate change this decade.
From the outset, the Bezos Earth Fund was the subject of criticism, especially from some local environmental groups. At first, Bezos primarily funded high-profile environmental groups with historically white leadership and relatively large budgets rather than supporting more indigenous and community groups of color, critics noted. Other criticisms have focused on how Amazon, the e-commerce giant founded by Bezos, continues to pollute neighborhoods and emit increasing levels of greenhouse gases.
Since that initial 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 part of it. most important of the Bezos Earth Fund’s message. The fund’s latest round of funding sets aside $ 130 million for 19 different organizations that “do critical work on climate justice.” This follows an additional $ 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’s Justice40 initiative. Shortly after taking office in January, Biden created the initiative through an executive order to ensure that “underprivileged communities” receive 40% of the “overall benefits” of federal energy investments. clean and climate action.
Bezos beneficiaries include a wide range of groups who collect data to inform policy-making, help underserved communities become more resilient to climate change, support tribes and indigenous communities, or plan to create programs for training for the Justice40 initiative. For example, GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit that aims to increase access to solar energy, will receive $ 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 Earth’s land and oceans by 2030. This will focus on the creation, expansion and monitoring of so-called “protected areas” – mainly in the Congo Basin and the tropical Andes regions. According to the Bezos Earth Fund, the grants will create 11 million hectares of newly protected areas in the Congo Basin, where 70 percent of Africa’s forests are found. In the tropical Andes, another important carbon sink for the planet, the subsidies will convert about 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 when they are not carefully implemented, can actually harm local communities. There is a documented history of conservation efforts forcing indigenous peoples from their lands to create national parks. The World Wildlife Fund, which is one of Bezos’ grant recipients, was recently accused of failing to take responsibility for human rights violations during a hearing in the U.S. Congress. This followed a Buzzfeed News investigation in 2019 which found that WWF-funded rangers had been charged with murder, torture and rape.
The Bezos Earth Fund says the new protected areas will help “secure” the rights of local communities to 24 million hectares of land. It is also spending an additional $ 25 million to launch a new type of “global mechanism” that could secure “support” to indigenous peoples and local communities. Forests have tended to fare better under their care, research shows. There is also an additional $ 51 million to restore landscapes in the United States and Africa.
Closer to home for Bezos, Amazon was implicated in a recent report as playing a “disproportionate” role in port congestion and associated marine pollution along the west coast of the United States. And despite Amazon’s commitments to tackle climate change, the company’s carbon footprint increased by almost 20% in 2020.