Amazon Is Spending $10 Million to Expand Forests and Capture Carbon

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(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc. said it will contribute $10 million to help conserve forests in the northeastern U.S. in an effort capture planet-warming carbon dioxide.

The Seattle-based company on Tuesday said the grant will make it the largest contributor to two relatively new programs overseen by the Nature Conservancy, the American Forest Foundation and the Vermont Land Trust, which are designed to encourage sustainable forestry practices among smaller forest owners and connect those people to carbon credit markets. In exchange, owners agree to take steps like limit harvesting of trees over a 20-year period or deploy other forestry practices designed to encourage healthy tree growth. Amazon said its contribution will help expand those programs beyond Pennsylvania and Vermont and ultimately help conserve some 4 million acres of forest land adjacent to the Appalachian Mountains, which stretch from Alabama to the Canadian border. 

“These projects will conserve forests and wildlife for future generations—and the planet—and help remove carbon from the atmosphere,” said Kara Hurst, who leads Amazon’s sustainability efforts.

It’s the first contribution from the Right Now Climate Fund, a $100 million pot of money Amazon set aside last year in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, to back projects that protect or restore forests, wetlands and peatlands. Amazon, which long lagged behind some retail and technology peers in environmental commitments and transparency, said in September that it would become carbon neutral by 2040. 

Carbon credit schemes let companies or other entities offset their impact on global greenhouse gas emissions, on paper anyway, by contributing to a project designed to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Such credits frequently underwrite the preservation or restoration of forest land; trees consume carbon dioxide.

But such projects have a mixed record in actually delivering carbon reductions. Some plots of land might have been destined for reforestation anyway. Sometimes, two different companies claim credit for the same projects. In parts of the U.S. Northeast, forestland has been expanding for decades anyway amid migration to cities and shifts in agricultural land use. 

The Family Forest Carbon Program, which is being piloted in Pennsylvania, seeks to help landowners tap carbon credit markets as an alternative to cutting down trees as soon as they become valuable lumber, said Bronson Griscom, who helped design the program at the Nature Conservancy before leaving to join Conservation International last year. 

“There’s all these win-win opportunities between good forestry and increasing forest carbon storage,” he said. 

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