Nov 18, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Inside one of Jeff Bezos’ climate change grants

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Jeff Bezos’ $100 million grant to the Environmental Defense Fund is tied as the biggest donation the group has ever received in its more than 50-year history, its president Fred Krupp told Axios Tuesday.

Driving the news: The Bezos Earth Fund, the $10 billion fund Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos unveiled early this year, officially revealed its first recipients this week. They will receive a total of nearly $800 million.

The intrigue: Krupp said Bezos’ office called EDF earlier this fall inquiring about donating. “A few days later, I found myself on the phone with him and he said he didn’t know much about climate change,” Krupp said. 

  • ”And then every question he asked, every comment he made, indicated he had clearly been studying a lot about climate change and he was very knowledgeable.”

By the numbers: The grant will be spent over three years, which means the donation amounts to about 16% of its total annual operating expenses.

  • The only other donation that matches this $100 million size is one by the now-deceased investor Robert Wilson, who gave away millions to conservation-minded groups.
  • Overall, climate-change causes receive just 2% of philanthropic money, according to a recent report by the ClimateWorks Foundation (which was another recipient of Bezos’ money).

How it works: EDF will use the money on two specific areas:

  1. Completing construction and building out the data platform for a satellite tracking emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s also the primary component of natural gas. That data, combined with an advocacy campaign, will “deliver 45% reductions in methane pollution by 2025,” Krupp says.
  2. Establishing a consensus standards system to ensure more transparency in the otherwise rather opaque world of carbon credits and offsets, such as in forests.

What we're watching: To what degree Bezos’ remaining fund money — still an eye-popping $9.2 billion — will go to organizations working explicitly to build support for climate-change action among conservatives.

  • While elected Republicans have mostly been silent or outright dismissive of climate change, a growing number of conservatives and Republicans outside of Congress have begun to support climate action. They privately lament the dearth of donations to this corner of climate advocacy, given the likely essential nature bipartisan support fills in big climate policy.
  • Krupp said three out of the five groups that got the largest groups — including EDF, The Nature Conservancy and World Resources Institute — focus on work that’s bipartisan in nature.
  • A fund spokeswoman didn't have more details to share about future grants.

Go deeper: Bezos’ Instagram post announcement

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