Billionaires: Jeff Bezos scales up philanthropy with $443m donation to climate groups

In our fortnightly round-up, Vladimir Potanin faces a $7bn divorce claim and John Paulson considers selling two Puerto Rico hotels

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2018, file photo, Jeff Bezos, the CEO and founder of, takes a walking tour of the Amazon Spheres in Seattle. Bezos said Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, that he plans to spend $10 billion of his own fortune to help fight climate change. Bezos, the world's richest man, said in an Instagram post that he'll start giving grants this summer to scientists, activists and nonprofits working to protect the earth. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
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Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, the world's second-richest person, announced $443 million in donations to climate organisations as the world’s second-richest person scales up his philanthropy.

The most recent contributions are in addition to the $791m he gave to 16 organisations last year as part of his $10 billion commitment to his Earth Fund to fight climate change. Mr Bezos, 57, has promised to distribute the full amount by 2030.

Of the 44 grants announced on December 6, $130m goes to help the Justice40 initiative, an effort by US President Joe Biden’s administration to fight climate change and support disadvantaged communities.

Another $261m is for a plan to protect 30 per cent of the land and sea by 2030, with a focus on the Congo Basin and the tropical Andes. The remaining $51m will support land restoration in the US and Africa.

“The goal of the Bezos Earth Fund is to support change agents who are seizing the challenges that this decisive decade presents,” said Andrew Steer, the fund’s chief executive.

Mr Bezos has been on a giving spree this year after stepping down as chief executive of Amazon and flying to the edge of space on one of his Blue Origin rockets. The announcement brings his total giving to more than $1bn, including $100m to the Obama Foundation and $200m to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The centibillionaire recently laid out his plans for the Earth Fund, which includes committing $2bn towards restoring nature and transforming food systems.

He made that announcement to coincide with the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, last month, which he attended alongside world leaders and activists.

The giving comes as Amazon, where Mr Bezos is still executive chairman, faces controversy from labour activists amid fights for unionisation at its warehouses.

After losing a union vote at an Alabama warehouse, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is alleging that Amazon intimidated workers and piled pressure on them to cast votes in a mailbox the company had installed on its property in view of security cameras. Amazon denied any wrongdoing. A second vote will be held.

Mr Bezos is worth $195bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, mostly from his Amazon stake.

Vladimir Potanin

Vladimir Potanin, Russia’s second-richest man, is facing one of the world’s biggest divorce claims after Mr Bezos and Bill Gates.

His former wife, Natalia Potanina, is seeking 50 per cent of the value of his stake in MMC Norilsk Nickel, outlining the maximum amount at a London court hearing earlier this week. That amount could exceed $7bn, given that Mr Potanin owns about a third of the shares in the metal producer.

Mr Potanin is fighting the case after Britain's Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling that accused Ms Potanina of “divorce tourism”. He is still waiting to hear whether the UK Supreme Court will consider an appeal, Judge Nicholas Francis said.

London’s divorce courts have been a popular destination for high-value legal fights, with judges typically prepared to order a more equal share of a couple’s assets.

In the UK, the largest publicly known payout in a divorce is currently £450m ($631m), which was awarded to the wife of billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov – although the two settled for a payment of less than a third of that amount.

Ms Potanina said that in addition to the Norilsk stock, she would be prepared to accept half of all dividends on the shares from 2014. Her former husband has collected about 487.3bn Russian roubles ($6.6bn) in dividends since then and has a net worth of $29.9bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Ms Potanina is also seeking half of the value of an expensive Russian property known as the Autumn House.

She said she received about $40m after Russian divorce proceedings while Mr Potanin said she ended up with $84m – a sum that, by English standards, is a “paltry award” given his wealth and the length of their 31-year marriage, a judge said in a previous decision.

John Paulson

Billionaire investor John Paulson is considering selling two famous hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The properties include the Condado Vanderbilt and La Concha hotels. Paulson & Co, Mr Paulson’s New York-based investment companies, bought the properties in 2014 for $260m.

The plans were reported earlier by Dow Jones. A Paulson representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

For years, after buying the hotels, Mr Paulson floated the possibility of moving to the island, which offers attractive tax breaks to lure wealthy mainlanders. But he never made the move and a spokesman told Bloomberg earlier this year that he no longer plans to do so.

Mr Paulson is looking to unload the hotels as Puerto Rico may emerge from its more than four-year bankruptcy in early 2022.

The judge overseeing the workout, the largest in the $4 trillion municipal-bond market, is reviewing a debt restructuring plan for the commonwealth that would slash billions in debt. Leaving bankruptcy will allow the island to focus on economic development and growing its economy.

Lukas Walton

Billionaire Lukas Walton, grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, has joined at least nine other families and private foundations in backing a $25m fund aimed at advancing the "circular" economy in which waste is minimised.

It is the second of two funds raised by Singapore-based investment-management company Circulate Capital, which focuses on climate-change mitigation technology such as the development of sustainable textiles and insulation materials, and hyper-efficient recycling.

Circulate raised $106m in 2019 from PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Chanel and other corporations for a fund focused on Asia-based recycling companies that are working to reduce ocean-bound plastic waste.

The money raised in the new round will go towards Asian recycling companies and also be used for direct investments in climate technology start-ups, beginning with three in the US: Arzeda, a Seattle-based biotechnology company; Circ, a Virginia-based recycling technology company; and Phase Change Solutions, a North Carolina-based maker of plant-based temperature-stabilising materials.

Unlike the first fund, whose investors are solely corporations, the latest was raised from private capital, such as family offices, said Rob Kaplan, Circulate’s chief executive.

Private investors began to approach Circulate about a year ago and Kaplan jumped at the chance “to build those bridges with the private investment community”, he said.

We knew early on it was going to take a lot more than $100m to solve this problem. It was going to take many, many billions of dollars
Rob Kaplan, chief executive of Circulate

“We knew early on it was going to take a lot more than $100m to solve this problem,” Mr Kaplan said. “It was going to take many, many billions of dollars.”

Other investors in the round include the family office of property investor Stanley Tan and a charitable foundation belonging to former Hillhouse Capital director Angela Huang and trader Geo Chen.

Mr Kaplan said he met Lukas Walton about seven years ago while working as director of sustainability for Walmart. The only child of Sam’s late son, John, and his wife Christy, Lukas, 35, has a net worth of $21.6bn according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

In recent years he has emerged as a significant backer of green technology and other sustainability-minded ventures. In addition to a stake in Walmart, he owns shares in First Solar worth about $500m.

Several years ago, he formed Builders, the entity through which he invested in Circulate. Based in Chicago, Builders invests in companies and non-profits working to address environmental and societal problems such as overfishing and food insecurity.

The organisation has committed about $2bn in philanthropic capital over the past three years and made $1bn in direct investments since 2014.

Updated: December 12, 2021, 12:18 PM