- Issue: Spring 2021
Fires in Australia and the Amazon. Devastating storms in the Philippines, Guatemala, and the Caribbean. Here in the US—from California to Louisiana and beyond—we are seeing more of the same. Every year more and more lives, and trillions of dollars, are being lost to climate-fueled disasters. For millions of people these raging wildfires, catastrophic tropical storms, and once-in-a-century floods are now a reality of daily life.
But while the focus is often on nature’s destructive power, nature is in fact a crucial part of the climate solution. If climate change is a disease, nature can be at the heart of the cure.
Take mangroves. These saltwater-tolerant trees hug the coasts of 118 countries and store three to four times more carbon per hectare than other tropical forests. Their deep, sturdy roots anchor shorelines and protect coastal communities from storm surges and destructive waves.
Forests, too, are powerful allies when it comes to slowing and adapting to climate change. Experts estimate that halting deforestation and increasing sustainable land use could deliver up to 30% of the climate mitigation needed by 2050, not to mention the associated reduction in the risk of wildfires.
Recognizing this powerful truth, investors are increasingly looking to the power of nature as a critical piece of achieving a zero-carbon world.
About a year ago, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, reiterated his commitment to address climate change, which he recognizes as “the biggest threat to our planet.” He committed $10 billion to establish the Bezos Earth Fund, with the express goal of helping preserve and protect the natural world. This past November, the Bezos Earth Fund awarded $791 million in inaugural grants to 16 organizations so they could double down on what Bezos calls “innovative, ambitious, and needle-moving solutions.”
The Bezos Earth Fund’s commitment is also a call to other institutions and philanthropists to act while the window of opportunity remains open for investors looking to lock in nature’s riches for the greater good.
As part of that first round of funding, WWF received $100 million to accelerate the most promising nature-based solutions—methods that harness the power of nature to provide for communities and stabilize our climate. The grant will help WWF protect and restore mangroves, develop new markets for seaweed, and support efforts to permanently protect forests and other ecosystems from destruction in some of the most important landscapes in the world.
In places like Colombia, Fiji, Madagascar, and Mexico, WWF will increase the conservation and restoration of mangrove forests through a combination of protecting standing trees and replanting in places where mangroves belong. WWF’s local offices have a long history of working with communities to ensure these efforts also increase economic opportunity; improve health, and food and water security; and build resilience for people in the face of extreme weather and rising seas.
The seaweed solution
In the North Atlantic and Northeastern Pacific Rim, WWF will leverage the Bezos Earth Fund commitment to scale up sustainable seaweed farming and develop new markets to accelerate the expansion of the industry. Seaweed farming stores carbon, offers jobs, and supports diverse sea life; by expanding markets for seaweed, we can provide an alternative to fossil fuel-based products and set the stage for groundbreaking advances in deep-sea carbon sequestration.
In the Amazon, Africa, and Central America, WWF will intensify efforts to restore and protect forests and critical ecosystems through innovative, long-term initiatives that integrate resilient financing models and expand and improve upon area-based conservation work. When developed in partnership with local communities and governments, protected conservation areas are one of the greatest tools available to stabilize planetary warming by halting deforestation and increasing sustainable land use. WWF will also work with communities in these areas to help them reduce threats to nature while preparing for the impacts of climate change.
As part of putting the Bezos Earth Fund grants to work, WWF has set the following ambitious goals.
Protecting and restoring mangroves
PROTECT and restore 1 million hectares (approximately 2.4 million acres) of mangroves
SAFEGUARD an estimated 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent
IMPROVE resilience to climate change for 300,000 people annually who live in vulnerable coastal areas
Developing new markets for seaweed
INCREASE the annual seaweed harvest in key geographies at a faster rate than the industry overall, with the goal of producing 94 million metric tons of seaweed annually by 2030
MOVE seaweed into the supply chain of more new products (animal feed, proteins, biodegradable plastics)
ENABLE 300 new farm permit applications in regions where the industry can grow and have a positive impact
Protecting forests and other ecosystems
SECURE long-term protections for 53 million hectares (approximately 131 million acres) of critical ecosystems
SAFEGUARD 11.3 billion metric tons of carbon (CO2)
IMPROVE more than 14 million people’s resilience in the face of climate change
All Hands on Deck
Carter Roberts shares the story of how this game-changing opportunity came to pass.
When I first spoke with Jeff Bezos, Lauren Sánchez, and their team last summer, they were interested in looking for opportunities to deliver results, unlock other sources of funding, and scale up climate solutions that were more generally neglected by philanthropy and government initiatives.
So we talked about the role of nature, and about how you can’t solve climate change without ending deforestation and finding new ways to produce food. Then we talked about the greatest “shovel ready” projects WWF had on deck—projects where we could deliver real results in the next five years.
The grant from the Bezos Earth Fund is the largest single gift from an individual to WWF. Ever. It is a contribution that builds on the major work we have done with foundations, individuals, members, and supporters who have helped us advance these initiatives. It immediately gives wings to WWF’s efforts and exponentially increases our work to slow climate change and adapt to its impacts.
The funds also give us a powerful point of leverage for securing an additional $850 million, meaning almost $1 billion will feed into nature-based, people-forward solutions like these.
What I know from experience is that the alchemy in our work happens when our staff have powerful, crystalline ideas and are able to work with a host of partners—from local communities to national governments to our supporters and philanthropic partners—to bring these ideas to life.
Addressing the climate crisis requires massive financial support to scale up proven approaches and test new solutions. It requires that companies, governments, philanthropists, and people around the world come together to address this issue.
The outsize impact of these funds—and the additional investment in mangroves, and forests, and climate-smart industry that they will help us secure—is an example of what it looks like when people come together to meet the urgency of the climate crisis. And it is a powerful signal to other institutions to act at similar scales.