Jeff Bezos tells COP26 how going to space made him realise ‘how thin the globe’s atmosphere’ is

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos speaking at the Leaders’ Action on Forests and Land-use event during the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow

Nature provides all the food we eat, the water we drink, and the oxygen we breathe. It gives us life. It is beautiful, but it is also fragile. I was reminded of this in July when I went into space with Blue Origin. 

I was told that seeing the earth from space changes the lens through which you view the world. But I was not prepared for how much that would be true. 

Looking back at earth from up there, the atmosphere seems so thin. The world so finite and so fragile. 

Now in this critical year, in what we all know is the decisive decade, we must all stand together to protect our world. 

Climate change gives us a powerful reason to invest in nature. Each year forests and landscapes absorb 11billion ton of CO2 from the atmosphere, helping to slow climate change. 

As we destroy nature, we reverse this process. Cut down a forest, destroy the mangroves, pave over the prairies, and instead of sequestering carbon, we emit it. 

In too many parts of the world nature is already flipping from a carbon sink to a carbon source. This is a profound and urgent danger to us all. 

That’s why last month in New York, nine philanthropic organisations announced an additional $5billion to support the goal of 30 by 30 – to protect 30% of all land and sea by 2030. 

I was honoured to be a part of this with a $1billion pledge from the Bezos Earth Fund. 

Today I’m pleased to announce a $2billion pledge allocated directly to restoring nature and transforming food systems. 

This is part of the Bezos Earth Fund’s $10billion commitment to fight climate change, enhance nature, and advance environmental justice and economic opportunity. 

Together this $3billion in pledges will drive a new three-fold nature agenda for the Bezos Earth Fund, focused simultaneously on conservation, restoration, and food transformation. 

We must conserve what we still have. We must restore what we’ve lost. And we must grow what we need to live without degrading the planet for future generations to come. 

In the atmosphere molecules of carbon dioxide cause climate change and risk destroying life as we know it, but bring that carbon back down to earth through the magic of photosynthesis into trees, plants, crops and soil, and this brings life and vitality. 

Today two thirds of the land in Africa is degraded but this can be reversed.

Restoration can improve soil fertility, raise yields, and improve food security, make water more reliable, create jobs and boost economic growth while also sequestering carbon. 

CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos, left, and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, leave the stage following a session on Action on Forests and Land Use, during the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, Tuesday

CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos, left, and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, leave the stage following a session on Action on Forests and Land Use, during the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, Tuesday

Continent-wide initiatives like Africa 100 and the Great Green Wall offer significant hope. They must now be scaled up. 

Ahead of Cop27 next year the Bezos Earth Fund would be eager to participate in a concerted strategy led by African nations to seriously and effectively ramp up support for restoration on the continent. 

However, we cannot rely only on governments, NGOs and philanthropies to solve the climate crisis. 

The private sector must also play its part to reduce carbon emissions. 

Companies need to take leadership positions. 

Amazon has cofounded the Climate Pledge with Christiana Figueres and set a goal to reach net zero carbon by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the Paris agreement goals. 

As part of this pledge, Amazon aims to power all its operations with 100 per cent renewable energy by 2025, and is working to convert its delivery fleet to electric vehicles. 

Amazon is inviting other companies to join the Climate Pledge – and more than 200 have to date. 

Companies can also lead the way on nature-based solutions. 

Over the past six months, Amazon partnered with leading companies, countries committed to protecting the tropical forests, and the governments of Norway, the UK and the US, to mobilise an unprecedented level of funding to fight tropical deforestation through an initiative called The Leaf Coalition.

Amazon has committed significant financial support for Leaf, and the coalition will be signing letters of intent with governments that are ready to receive support.

More details will be shared in the next session. 

Let me be clear, when people hanker for the good ol’ days and glamourise the past, they are almost always wrong. By almost all metrics, life is much better today than it was in the past. Global poverty rates are lower, infant mortality and life expectancy are better, and education rates are higher. 

But there is a notable exception: The natural world is not better today than it was 500 years ago when we enjoyed unspoiled forests, clean rivers and the pristine air of the pre-industrial world. 

This is an unacceptable anomaly, and it’s one we can reverse. The question is simple: Will we in this room work together, do the hard work together, to gift our children and grandchildren an improving natural world? 

I know the answer is yes. And I look forward to working with all of you on this important and rewarding journey. Thank you.