Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Amazon
Today, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced a massive new commitment to fight climate change called The Climate Pledge. He says Amazon will work to drastically reduce its carbon emissions with the ultimate goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2040 — all part of an effort to avert some of the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
The pledge’s target is 10 years earlier than the most ambitious version of the Paris agreement’s climate goals, which currently aims for the world to become carbon-neutral by 2050. Bezos pledged that Amazon would measure and report emissions on a regular basis, implement decarbonization strategies, and offset any remaining emissions. Other companies are also invited to sign on to the commitment.
Bezos’ goal is for 80 percent of Amazon’s energy use to be renewable by 2024. By 2030, Bezos hopes to run Amazon on renewables alone. Bezos says he wants Amazon to be a role model for other companies, which is why he says Amazon will be the first company to sign on to the new pledge.
“This really now is an emergency.”
Joining Bezos onstage was Christiana Figueres, a former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “We are incredibly grateful that Jeff is doing this,” Figueres said. “We’re not playing house anymore. This really now is an emergency.”
Today’s announcement comes a day before thousands of Amazon employees have pledged to walk off the job to protest the company’s pollution and support of fossil fuel companies and climate deniers. The 15,500 Amazon employees who have said they will walk out on September 20th will join massive demonstrations around the world ahead of a United Nations summit on climate action taking place in New York City on September 23rd. Dubbed the Global Climate Strike, it builds on a movement of youth walking out of class on Fridays to protest inaction on an issue they believe will shape their futures.
It’s expected to be the first time workers at the company’s Seattle headquarters walk out. Warehouse workers went on strike during Amazon Prime Day to protest labor conditions. In April, thousands of employees signed on to an open letter to Bezos asking the CEO to develop a plan to take action on climate change.
Reducing emissions will be a challenge for the retail behemoth. Amazon has an enormous physical infrastructure, which is necessary for delivering packages. One way Bezos is hoping to reduce emissions is by using electric vans to help deliver packages. He says he’s just placed an order for 100,000 vans from Rivian, an electric car startup. “If we can do this, anyone can do this,” Bezos said.
Amazon said in February that it would share data on its carbon footprint by the end of the year. It still hasn’t done that. But Bezos said during the event that the company now gets 40 percent of its energy from renewables, thanks to its construction of 15 utility-scale solar and wind farms.
Bezos has committed $100 million to The Nature Conservancy to help with reforestation. Amazon shared that it developed its own system to calculate its carbon emissions and will convene a conference to share its method with other companies that are committed to reducing their carbon footprint.
“If we can do this, anyone can do this.”
Some of the commitments today reflect demands made by Amazon employees. In advance of the September 20th walkout, a group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice outlined their demands for the company in a Medium post posted on September 9th. They want Amazon to cut all of its emissions by 2030, starting with piloting electric vehicles in the neighborhoods most affected by the pollution stemming from Amazon’s warehouses and deliveries.
Bezos didn’t agree to address one of the employee demands: that Amazon end its contracts with fossil fuel companies. “We are going to work very hard to make sure that, as they transition, they have the best tools possible,” Bezos said. “To ask oil and energy companies to do this transition with bad tools is not a good idea.” A report from Gizmodo revealed in April that Amazon “aggressively” sought to sell its services to oil and gas companies.
The employees are asking Amazon to quit funding any groups or individuals that are peddling an agenda that rejects climate science. Amazon contributed $15,000 to a Game of Thrones-themed event held by climate-denying think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, The New York Times reported in July. Bezos didn’t commit to that, though, he said. “We’re going to be taking a hard look at our own campaign contributions.”
The employee group responded to Amazon’s new environmental commitments on Twitter, calling it a “huge win” but “not enough.” “Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we’ll be in the streets,” the group said in the statement.
The Paris climate agreement (also known as the Paris accord), which Bezos referenced today, is something of a flashpoint in the climate community after the US announced its intention to withdraw in 2017. But in 2015, representatives of countries from around the world made a commitment to the Paris accord, which tasked each nation that signed on with actively working to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. (Greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing temperatures on the planet to rise.) The ultimate goal of the Paris accord is to limit global heating to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. More recently, researchers figured out that in order to meet an even more ambitious goal laid out in the agreement — limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — countries needed to become carbon-neutral by 2050. Today’s announcement moves that goal up by a decade for private companies like Amazon.
Bezos seems to be sending the message that even if the US government won’t honor the agreement, US companies will.
Update 9/19/19 2:10PM ET: This post has been updated to include the current percentage of Amazon’s renewable mix and a statement from Amazon’s employees.