Andrew Steer named President and CEO of $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund

 

Elika Roohi

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Andrew Steer, who currently serves as CEO of the environmental non-profit World Resources Institute, will join the Bezos Earth Fund as President and CEO in the coming weeks, announced Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos yesterday.

According to Steer, ‘Jeff’s goal is to spend [the Fund] down between now and 2030, the date by which the SDGs must be achieved.’

The Earth Fund was launched last February with $10 billion – a sum that elevated Bezos to biggest funder in the climate space, though the pledge at the time amounted to around eight per cent of his own wealth and drew calls for greater action, particularly around making his own company more climate friendly.

Details on the direction that grants would flow became clearer in November last year when the first round of funding, amounting to $791 million, was announced. Among the groups to receive the Earth Fund’s first grants were groups such as ClimateWorks, Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund.

Also in the first round of grants was the World Resources Institute, which received a five-year $100 million grant, the organisation from which Steer is now departing to join Bezos’ Fund. The funding helped WRI launch two climate projects: supporting the electrification of the entire US school bus fleet and creating a universally accessible global land and carbon monitoring system to provide accurate emissions data around land use.

Dr Andrew Steer

Bezos, who actively participated in the interview process and hired Steer according to the Earth Fund, announced the news on Instagram, writing: ‘Andrew has decades of experience in environmental and climate science as well as economic and social policy in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa. … Lauren and I are thrilled to have Andrew aboard and very energized about what lies ahead for the Fund and our partners.’

Felicitas von Peter, Founder of Active Philanthropy and guest editor of Alliance‘s June 2021 issue on climate philanthropy before Glasgow, said: ‘Placing the remarkable sum of $10 billion into the hands of such an experienced and committed leader, so deeply rooted and recognised in the climate community, is fantastic news.

‘While we have seen many great initiatives throughout the last years, we need more frontrunners that can support the establishment of infrastructures, support community-based initiatives, and give a voice to those affected most by climate change. The Earth Fund has the financial capacity to take risks, support emerging climate movements and groups that work on the intersection of climate change and the other major crises we are facing such as the loss of biodiversity and rising inequality. Andrew Steer brings in everything it takes to unleash the fund’s enormous potential in this critical decade. While the first set of grants went to established NGO’s, there is an enormous potential for the Earth Fund to also reach out to smaller, community-led groups that will form a crucial backbone of the transformations lying ahead.’

In a series of tweets announcing his new role, Steer wrote that the Earth Fund will invest in scientists, NGOs, activists and the private sector to further development of new technologies, investments, policy change and behaviour. One key focus of the Fund will be around climate change’s impacts on ‘poor and marginalized communities’, Steer said.

Steer lead WRI for eight years, during which the institute’s staff grew five-fold and its budget quadrupled, according to a statement by the organisation.

‘I feel incredibly fortunate to join the Bezos Earth Fund as its CEO, where I will focus on driving systemic change to address the climate and nature crises, with a focus on people. Too many of the most creative initiatives suffer for a lack of finance, risk management or the right partnerships. This is where the Earth Fund will be helpful,’ Steer said

Mission vs practice at the Earth Fund

Reviewing the grants disbursed by the Fund so far, which have largely to mainstream organisations pursing technocratic solutions to climate change, do not necessarily reflect the Fund’s stated mission for climate justice.

‘Of the $791 million, $151 million will go to groups identified by the Earth Fund as focused on climate justice issues. Well, therein lies the problem, right? It’s oxymoronic. If they really understood the principles of climate justice, they’d know it’s not up to them to identify it,’ said Angela Mahecha Adrar, Executive Director at Climate Justice Alliance in November, referring to the Fund’s support for Big Greens, often criticised for causing environmental harm through solutions such as carbon offset schemes that allow corporate donors to continue polluting, instead of grassroots organisations.

‘He made big investments in outdated, conservation-style organisations that are not resolving climate at the rate we need to and that still get to decide, as predominantly white organisations, what priorities to focus on, and what strings to attach.’

However, the money allocated by the Earth Fund so far makes up less than eight per cent of the total $10 billion, which will be spent down by 2030 according to its new President and CEO. What’s to be funded next is still unknown – but with $9.2 billion left for the next nine years, its potential is vast.

Elika Roohi is Digital Editor at Alliance.

Editor’s note: This piece was update on 11 March 2021 to include comments from Felicitas von Peter.


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