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“There Are No Silver Bullets for Planetary Crises – We Need Systemic Approaches”: Interview with Bezos Earth Fund President and CEO Andrew Steer

Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund and a longstanding CCICED Council Member, reflects on how the world can meet the financing gap for climate and biodiversity, green financial markets, and better value nature’s services and solutions.

Leading the largest philanthropic commitment ever to fight climate change and protect nature, Steer shares the Bezos Earth Fund’s “systems approach” to transforming the way our societies and economies operate – and underscores China’s potential to play a pivotal role in promoting green investments and supporting developing countries through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Steer on the 2023 CCICED Annual General Meeting:
“CCICED and the AGM has played a very positive role in sharing best practices, designing solutions, and building trust. The past 30 years have seen incredible transformation, and the next 30 years may witness even more exponential transformation in our society.”

What is the key to greening financing markets?

Until recently, financial markets had largely ignored the importance of nature in creating healthy economic and financial returns. One key to addressing this market failure is for central bankers and regulators to introduce mandatory regulations, ensuring that both climate and nature are factored into financial risk assessments, just as they require other risks to be addressed.

Many mainstream banks, pension funds, and insurance companies have already started making climate risk assessments. China has been an early adopter in this regard. This practice paves the way for adopting a broader financial risk framework for biodiversity and other environmental issues like ocean plastics and air pollution.

The result would be transformative—a coherent investment thesis for environmental sustainability that could propel the financial sector beyond the current battles on ESG (environment, social, and governance).

You mentioned the potential for a “transformative” result, which appears to be a central tenet of the Bezos Earth Fund’s “systems approach” to climate and nature challenges. Can you tell us more about this approach?

We look for breakthrough approaches where we can be truly transformative. A critical part of this is assessing the systemic transformations that need to happen and the levers of change to implement the action.

Solutions to the challenges we aim to tackle, from stopping overfishing to switching to a hydrogen economy for heavy industries, are not simple. They require each of us to bring our piece to the jigsaw puzzle to make it work. There are no silver bullets. We must think about systems and their actors rather than individual projects.

Do you have any concrete examples of the concept of system transformation?

Tackling deforestation in Southeast Asia is one example. Identifying the root cause—the surging palm oil demand—is insufficient. Success will occur only if we understand all the actors: the big agricultural estate companies and the smallholders, the buyers, the processors, the food companies, the financiers, the retailers, and the consumers all over the world, as well as the governments in both the supplying and the importing countries. We also need to identify alternative paths that make better economic and political sense.

The solution is to be found with data and science—satellites and AI—which can show what palm oil is honorably harvested and which is leading to deforestation. We need to create a premium for “good” palm oil over “bad,” and the host governments need to be persuaded that strict enforcement will lead to more prosperity, not less.

How can we close the financing gap for implementing the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF)?

The most cited study about the global funding gap for biodiversity, produced by the Paulsen Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and Cornell University, suggests we need around USD 700 billion per year to protect biodiversity. We spend about one-fifth of this amount—around USD 130 billion per year. So, there is a big gap.

The good news is that we could easily finance this if governments were willing to eliminate public spending harmful to biodiversity through agricultural, forestry, and fisheries subsidies—which amount to USD 300–500 billion annually. This spending is two to four times higher than annual capital flows toward biodiversity conservation!

The critical point is that the large numbers needed to protect biodiversity should not be regarded as investments, not costs. They quickly pay for themselves. Healthy ecosystems create healthy economies.

“CCICED can be crucial in charting our paths forward, seeking viable and equitable solutions to address climate, nature, and biodiversity challenges. Working with CCICED has been a vibrant experience.”

Steer on CCICED


Is it time to put a price tag on nature?

Just as we have learned not to treat carbon emissions as costless, we can no longer regard biodiversity as valueless in economic and financial decision-making. For example, bees don’t send invoices, but they should because hundreds of billions of dollars of annual global food production rely on their pollination services.

The modern economy is linear, based on the “take-make-waste” model. We extract natural capital, use it inefficiently, and return the waste to the natural environment. Climate action focuses mainly on the final part of the equation—the pollution and waste end of things. Protecting nature requires an analogous approach focused on the “take” stage, in which we value the natural capital that benefits humanity without valuation today.

Besides biodiversity finance, we also face a deficit in climate finance. How can we best address the financing gaps for the multifaceted challenges facing the planet?

Well, I have three pieces of good news. First, the best investments often have multiple returns. We already know that most smart investments in biodiversity also benefit the climate, and protecting forests and mangroves, restoring land, and reducing destructive aspects of agriculture will also greatly help in climate mitigation and adaptation.

Second, we know nature provides the solutions to the climate and biodiversity challenges. In fact, nature-based solutions will account for one-third of the total solutions needed for the climate while delivering the GBF.

Moreover, there’s enough money in the world; we only need to ensure it goes to the right places.

The challenge, however, is that public funding is scarce. With limited fiscal space, governments have no choice but to make hard decisions between multiple priorities across development, decarbonization, and adaptation.

In light of this, governments should start taking a “nature lens” to everything they do, from which they will understand that scarce money can achieve more if invested smartly. They should also accelerate greening the financing markets, bringing more private capital to solve our shared challenges.

What role could China play on implementing the GBF, particularly in the context of greening the BRI and South-South cooperation?

The BRI can become a primary source of vital funding for the GBF and countries’ National Determined Contributions (NDCs). A review of BRI partner countries’ NDCs suggests a need for over USD 1 trillion in investment in renewable energy and green technology. China is a leader in such technologies and is also a natural financier. So too, China has demonstrated success in nature solutions, such as land restoration. If China were to design its BRI around these “future economy” investments, this could have a significant positive impact.

At a minimum, BRI investments need to be done within the framework of the GBF, protecting what we still have, restoring what we’ve lost, and transforming our food and energy systems with speed and scale.

How do you view CCICED’s role in tackling these planetary challenges in the years ahead?

Space for genuine exchange and cooperation, like CCICED, will be vital in the next decades. CCICED can be crucial in charting our paths forward, seeking viable and equitable solutions to address climate, nature, and biodiversity challenges.

Working with CCICED has been a vibrant experience. I feel I have learned a lot more than I have given back! It has been an enormous privilege to have been part of this process.

Can you share a highlight from your time as a CCICED Council Member?

One memorable experience was co-chairing the major study on “Greening China’s Financial System” a few years ago. We put together a superb team of Chinese and international experts on financial reform and had meetings in Beijing, London, and Washington. Working with the team to design policies and regulations that would encourage financial institutions to internalize the risks and opportunities that climate change brings was gratifying. It was an honor to be part of this journey.


The views expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily those of CCICED.

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