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Billionaires should not make up climate finance gaps, says Bezos Earth Fund head | Environment

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Billionaires can not be expected to make up for climate finance gaps left by rich countries that fail to deliver on promises to the developing world, the head of the Bezos Earth Fund has said.

The Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, created a $10bn (£8.8bn) grant to protect the Earth’s environment in 2020. Andrew Steer, the president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, oversees this alongside the billionaire, his partner Lauren Sanchez and the fund’s board.

Speaking to the Guardian before Cop27, with countries including the UK and US having failed to make good on climate finance promises and often offering loans instead of grants to poorer nations, Steer said it was not the role of philanthropy to fill in the resulting funding gaps .

“We want to resist simply replacing [government money]. That would not be good,” he said. “I don’t think we should buy into the idea that we’re somehow an alternative to government, because governments have an obligation and they are not living up to it to the extent they should.

“In the case of coal decommissioning in South Africa, for example, it’s not our job to come in and replace any of the $8.5bn (£7.5bn) that governments committed last year [at Cop26].”

Steer’s comments come amid reports by Climate Change News that wealthy countries are pushing for the UN’s Green Climate Fund to seek donations from super-rich individuals and big businesses, with three projects on hold because of the failure of the UK and US to make good on their commitments.

The UK government has come under fire for failing to make $300m of promised climate finance payments amid growing frustrations from developing countries over broken promises on the $100bn a year climate finance target.

Earlier this week, the Gabonese environment minister, Lee White, said broken promises about the money had left a “sense of betrayal” in the UN climate process, and he feared western governments would only take climate change seriously once their own citizens started dying from the effects of global heating in greater numbers.

Steer said the Bezos Earth Fund often seeks partnerships with governments on projects it funds, making its donation contingent on finance from a partner government. The money so far has been used to fund conservation projects in the DRC and the northern Andes, and improve datasets useful to climate researchers, among other initiatives.

“We spend quite a bit of time actually talking to European governments. Not because we need their money, because we want them to put in money to things which we and they think are important,” he said.

“As of today, I understand there’s still only like 3% of philanthropic money goes into climate change. If you could double it, that would make a big difference, up to 6%, because the vast majority of philanthropy goes to pretty well-endowed universities and religious organizations.

“Philanthropy has several characteristics that government money doesn’t. They include the ability to make decisions quickly and flexibly. They include the ability to take risks that others may not be willing to take. We can get in there first, and if we do our job well, it will make it more attractive for private and public investment.”

The Bezos Earth Fund has distributed about $1.5bn so far, often partnering with NGOs and governments on conservation and decarbonisation initiatives. It aims to distribute the full $10bn by 2030.