Author: Catherine Morehouse    Published: 2/19/202 0        Utility Dive

Credit: Getty Images

Billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder, president and CEO of e-commerce company Amazon, on Monday announced his commitment to providing $10 billion toward fighting climate change.

Specifics of the plan were sparse — in his Instagram post announcing the funding, he said the Bezos Earth Fund will provide funding for “scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.” He’ll begin issuing grants this summer and said the $10 billion is “to start,” but doesn’t specify how much more he plans to spend or over what time period.

Some speculate the billionaire’s move was timed to deflect attention from FRONTLINE’s release of a documentary that includes criticisms of his technology empire’s carbon footprint and rising pressure from the company’s employees about not doing enough on climate change.

“Clearly this was done quickly … he’s not fleshed out how exactly he wants to spend the money at the moment, it seems it’s going to anybody and everybody,” Aseem Prakash, political science professor at the University of Washington and founding director of the school’s Center for Environmental Politics told Utility Dive.

Despite the uncertainties, it’s clear to most observers that the funding could have huge impacts for fighting climate change.

“It dwarfs other philanthropy in this realm,” Robert Stavins, professor of energy and economic development at Harvard and director of the university’s environmental economics program told Utility Dive. “It sort of rises to the level of government actions in the climate policy or climate realm. So it’s potentially very significant.”

Michael Bloomberg launched a $500 million Beyond Carbon campaign, the largest coordinated climate change plan in the U.S. at the time, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies. The former New York mayor also launched Beyond Coal in 2011, and has invested $100 million since then on the campaign, which credits itself for the early retirement of over half the country’s coal fleet. Bezos and Bill Gates in 2016 also set up a $1 billion venture capital fund to invest in energy startups committed to reducing carbon emissions.

In sum, $10 billion could go a long way.

“It’s an insane scale-up of all the [climate] funding and I think it [is] a genuine question about how is this going to get spent?” Leah Stokes, assistant professor of energy and environmental politics and the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Utility Dive.

How should he spend it?

Some say the funding would be best spent on emerging technologies and scientific research, while others argue targeting policy and advocacy campaigns are the best use of $10 billion. Others say a healthy hybrid is best.

An unwise way to spend the money would be to make repeat investments in climate action that already has funding, thereby freeing up those investments to be spent somewhere else, said Stavins.