Amazon's Carbon Emissions Rose 18% in 2021

(Photo by Andrew Stickelman for Unsplash)

Amazon’s greenhouse gas emissions rose 18% in 2021, the company said in its latest sustainability report published in early August.

The company said it emitted 71.54 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2021, up from 60.64 million tons in 2020 and 51.17 million tons in 2019. That’s more than the total carbon footprint of several countries, including Greece, Peru and Norway. It’s also nearly as much CO2e put into the atmosphere as the country of Bangladesh, home to about 165 million people.

The figure also represents a whopping 40% increase compared to 2019 when it emitted 51.17 million tons of CO2e.

“While we’ve had success cutting emissions from some operations, we are still early in the process of transforming others,” the company acknowledged in the report.

“Some actions and investments have immediate carbon savings, while others will take years to demonstrate results,” it said.

Amazon said it managed to decrease its carbon intensity by 1.9% compared to 2020, which means that it has lowered the proportion of CO2 emissions per dollar it earned, improving the carbon efficiency of its operations. It said it was the third year in a row it had managed to lower the figure—it had fallen 16% between 2019 and 2020.

But at the same time, Amazon experienced rapid growth, undercutting its modest carbon intensity gains. The company said it grew its business at “an unprecedented pace” to respond to increased demand for its services during the pandemic, allegedly creating some 750,000 full-time and part-time jobs worldwide between early 2020 and the end of 2021.

Amazon accounts for its carbon emissions by including Scope 1, Scope 2 as well as Scope 3 emissions. Scope 1 emissions are those generated by assets owned by an organization, like its warehouses. Scope 2 emissions are created indirectly, for example, by the power plant it purchases electricity from. Scope 3 emissions are those generated across a company’s value chain, by its suppliers, employees and customers using its products.

Because of the sectors it operates in—shipping, warehouses and manufacturing—Amazon’s carbon emissions are hard to abate. The company says it is taking steps to curb its carbon footprint. In its sustainability report, it said it had sourced 85% of its energy needs from renewable sources and that it aimed to reach 100% by 2025.

The company has committed to achieving net zero by 2040, 10 years before the deadline set by the Paris Agreement to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5C from pre-industrial levels.

In 2019, it also co-founded the Climate Pledge, a commitment by several large companies to report their carbon footprints and reach net zero across their operations by 2040. The pledge is not legally binding, nor does it carry any penalty for violating it. Some 300 other companies have joined, including Best Buy, IBM, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Siemens, Unilever, Verizon and Visa.

In July 2022, Amazon announced that it would purchase 100,000 electric vehicles from Rivian through 2030 to make deliveries.

The company offsets the emissions it can’t abate by purchasing carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market.

Amazon’s Emissions Could Be a Cause for Concern for the U.N.

But the new reported increase in carbon emissions will be a concern for scientists, experts and observers. The U.N. has recently launched “Race to Zero,” an initiative to encourage companies and governments to commit to reducing their emissions by 50% by 2030. A growing number of scientists argue that the target and other near-term emission reduction goals are necessary milestones if the world wants to have a chance to limit global warming to 1.5C by 2050. Amazon’s latest increase takes it farther away from reaching that goal.

“The challenges we collectively face on the path to net-zero carbon are considerable,” Amazon said in the report. “Many new technologies are showing promise in their ability to reduce carbon emissions but may still need significant development.”

Amazon’s green credentials faced fierce criticism recently. In February 2022, Amazon was accused of “drastically undercounting” its emissions by Reveal News. The outlet reported at the time that Amazon counts only the carbon emissions generated by Amazon products sold on its site as part of its carbon footprint—but not those sold by other companies.

The problem is that Amazon products make up just 1% of all products sold on the platform. Other brands’ products sold directly by Amazon account for 39 percent, while third-party sellers account for the remaining 60 percent. By not counting the latter two categories, Amazon appears to be declaring just the tip of the iceberg of its carbon emissions, Reveal News alleged.

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