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Amazon launched a $10 million grant program Tuesday designed to help family forest owners conserve their land and participate in carbon credit markets. It is the first donation from Amazon’s $100 million Right Now Climate Fund, part of the Climate Pledge initiative that the Seattle tech giant announced last year.

The $10 million will help small family forest owners gain access to carbon offset trading, in which companies and governments pay to preserve forest land to mitigate their carbon emissions. The initiative will begin with forests in Vermont and Pennsylvania, with plans to expand the program across the 4 million acres of the Appalachians. Amazon is partnering with The Nature Conservancy, the American Forest Foundation, and The Vermont Land Trust on the projects.

“These projects will conserve forests and wildlife for future generations – and the planet – and help remove carbon from the atmosphere,” said Kara Hurst, Amazon’s vice president of sustainability, in a statement.

Amazon says the initiative will remove 18.5 million metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2031 and provide economic benefits to small forest owners who have previously been unable to generate income through carbon credit markets.

But the environmental impact of carbon offsets remains an open question. A ProPublica review of two decades of carbon offsets around the globe found only half of the promised project areas were forested. The investigation showed that many carbon credits did not offset the amount of pollution they pledged to address.

Amazon says part of the $10 million will go toward developing better ways to track and measure the impact of carbon offsets. The company plans to “develop a scientific approach to regional carbon impact measurement, and enhance the project verification methodology,” according to its announcement.

“Family forest owners are a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to tackling climate change,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Lynn Scarlett in a statement. “But many of America’s nearly 11 million family forest owners may face barriers that prevent them from taking action … This funding from Amazon will, for the first time, allow small-scale forest landowners to tap into the economic opportunity linked to the carbon sequestration and storage potential of U.S. forests.”

Amazon user experience designer Emily Cunningham speaks at a rally outside of the company’s shareholders’ meeting in May 2019. Employees in support of the climate resolution wore white to the event. (Amazon Employees for Climate Justice Photo)

Offsets are a linchpin of Amazon’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint, which amounted to 44.4 million metric tons of CO2 in 2018. Amazon revealed that number for the first time last year as part of its Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. Amazon is funding a range of initiatives to reach that goal, including renewable energy plants, electric delivery vehicles, and sustainable building development.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos separately announced a $10 billion fund in February that will issue grants to organizations tackling climate change. Bezos has not released further details on the program since the initial announcement.

Despite those broad sustainability initiatives, a group of current and former employees at Amazon have been pressuring the company to implement more aggressive strategies in response to the climate crisis. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice formed over a year ago and continued agitating after the company unveiled the Climate Pledge.

Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, two leading organizers with the group, were fired last week for violating Amazon’s external communications policy. They were outspoken critics of the company’s climate change policy and more recently spoke out about conditions inside Amazon warehouses.

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice are organizing a global virtual walkout on Friday to protest the firings and call attention to Amazon’s coronavirus policies and environmental impact.

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