Bezos Earth Fund gives nearly $800 million to climate groups in first round of grants

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In its first round of grants, the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund will award $791 million to 16 environmental organizations largely focused on researching and implementing ways to reduce carbon emissions, build green jobs and restore wildlife.

The funding round announced Monday was remarkably large for an organization that does not have a website and has not published a list of staff, named a director or released instructions on how to apply for grants.

Five big-name environmental nonprofits—the Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund—each received $100 million. Those grants will fund projects that track and mitigate the effects of change, including by protecting and restoring mangroves, developing satellite fleets to monitor carbon dioxide and methane emissions and electrifying U.S. school buses.

Other recipients included pass-through organizations that make grants to smaller nonprofits working against climate change, including by mobilizing voters. The ClimateWorks Foundation, which funds groups looking for ways to cut down on carbon dioxide, received $50 million. The Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, the Solutions Project and the Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice, which are focused on ameliorating the effects of climate change in minority communities, each received $43 million.

A third group of recipients is pushing for scientific and technological advancement in the fight against climate change, largely in ways that would promote job growth in the so-called "green economy."

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies received $30 million to advance research into the ability of plants like corn and soybeans to capture and store carbon. The same sum went to the Energy Foundation to support advocacy related to hybrid and electric vehicles, zero-emission buildings and renewable energy.

The Union of Concerned Scientists received $15 million to advocate for electric trucking and updates to the U.S. electrical grid. The Rocky Mountain Institute's campaign for carbon-free buildings was awarded $8 million; an additional $2 million went to the Institute's startup lab. Dream Corps Green For All, which received $10 million, develops communication campaigns it says helps turn climate change into a nonpartisan issue, making it easier for policymakers to advocate for legislation promoting green jobs.

The Eden Reforestation Project, which restores ecosystems in developing countries, received $5 million. The NDN Collective, a Native-led group that received $12 million, has not said how it will use the funding.

The grant-making process appeared to be driven almost entirely by Bezos himself. "I've spent the past several months learning from a group of incredibly smart people who've made it their life's work to fight climate change and its impact on communities around the world," Bezos wrote in an Instagram post. "I'm inspired by what they're doing, and excited to help them scale."

One potential complication for Earth Fund recipients is the lack of transparency surrounding how the massive pot of cash is administered. If an Earth Fund grant amounts to a personal check from the leader of one of the largest companies in the world—and one that relies heavily on the polluting transportation sector—that may pose problems for climate groups, including those like the Environmental Defense Fund, which says it does not accept donations from corporations in some sectors, including warehousing and logistics fulfillment.

That group maintained that accepting an Earth Fund grant did not compromise its work. "The Bezos Earth Fund is not a corporation," said Amy Morse, an Environmental Defense Fund spokesperson. "It is a private philanthropy and a separate entity from Amazon."

Bezos does not seem overly entangled in the fund's day-to-day administration, raising questions about who is overseeing the Earth Fund's grant-making. So far, the fund has not made any hiring announcements.

After an initial conversation with Bezos, "most of the communications (sic) was with his staff," said Laurie Marden, the chief development officer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, in an email. "In fact, direct donor interaction was quite limited for a gift of this size"—$15 million, the largest her organization has ever received.

Part of that grant will fund advocacy around electrified trucking. Climate experts have said Amazon will likely need to electrify its shipping fleet if it is to make good on its promise last year to be carbon neutral by 2040.

Bezos unveiled the Earth Fund in February amid sharp internal and external criticism that the company was contributing to . In 2018, Amazon was likely one of the world's top emitters, on par with oil and gas companies, The New York Times reported. The e-commerce giant has since taken some steps it says will lessen its carbon footprint, including ordering 100,000 electric delivery vans and investing in carbon offsets.

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