Are Amazon, Microsoft and Google in the cloud?

As the clouds growing and becoming dominant in the growing market of digital data management, it is worth understanding if the providers of clouds control the carbon footprint of their services and contribute to the goal of planetary carbon neutrality.

The three largest providers of clouds, also called the hyperscalers, due to their size and growth, are: AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. Is the communication and strategy of these companies related to climate issues with the goal of keeping global warming below 2 ° C?

“Net zero” goals maintain the illusion of a carbon-neutral company

First observation, the three major cloud provider companies analyzed are widely communicating “net zero” goals, across different time horizons. In general, this climate communication strategy (based on achieving neutrality, immediate or future, by a company taken in isolation) is used by many players in the economy. However, these statements reveal facts that are more or less relevant to climate issues.

  • Google, renamed Alphabet in 2015, has considered itself carbon neutral (for all its activity) since 2007, thanks to the purchase of carbon credits equal to its operational emissions. It recently decided to extend this goal across its carbon footprint to 2030, taking into account the upstream and downstream emissions of its operations.
  • Amazon wants to be reached, by The Climate Promisethe “Net-Zero Carbon” goal by 2040. This goal corresponds to the removal from the atmosphere, by 2040, of as much GHG as the company emits in the year.
  • Microsoft is committed to being “carbon negative”, meaning it emits more carbon than they emit.

The terms ‘neutrality’, ‘net zero’ and ‘carbon negative’ suggest that if the company generates as many absorbances as emissions, it is pure and simply canceling out its carbon footprint, as if the greenhouse gas emissions associated with its activity have disappeared. This is equivalent to considering that the activity of these companies no longer contributes to the acceleration of climate drift, and therefore loses any climate impact and any risk of migration. Unfortunately, this view has no scientific basis and does not advocate climate action.

From a scientific perspective, carbon neutrality cannot be defined in the size of a company, and even less so in a product or service. It is only on a planetary scale that the balance of physical carbon fluxes (in emission and absorption) can be observed, with the result of a stabilization of the atmospheric concentration of CO2. In practice, it is impossible to translate this overall goal into the size of a company through a simple game of addition and subtraction.

This is why, with the help of dozens of partner companies, Carbone 4 initiated the development of the Net Zero Initiative framework, which allows a company or organization to understand how to maximize its contribution to achieving global carbon neutrality. Sequestered carbon is clearly considered, but it is considered unsuitable for induced emissions, which alone carries the risk of migration.

Thus, Microsoft, Alphabet or Amazon cannot be neutral, let alone carbon negative, regardless of the chosen scope of the organization or operation. They can – and should – still contribute to planetary carbon neutrality, in a variety of ways.

Behind the neutrality goals, three major companies decided to act on increasing carbon zinc:

  • Either by buying carbon credits: in 2020, Google bought 1.2 MtCO2e of carbon credits. Since the beginning of the financial year, Microsoft has contracted nearly 1.5 MtCO2e.
  • Or by funding unlabeled projects like Amazon, which has set aside $ 10 million to help forest owners catch CO2.

To achieve planetary carbon neutrality, the generation of sequestration will be essential. Thus, the three giants of clouds put resources, more or less important, into what the Net Zero Initiative calls “increased carbon sinks”, or even pillar C. However, contributing to global neutrality also implies very strong action on the other two column, associated with the reduction of planetary emissions.

The company must first reduce its own direct and indirect emissions (pillar A), then it reduces the emissions of others (column B). The second category deals with the marketing of decarbonizing products and solutions (i.e., products that reduce – to absolute value – customer emissions) and, under certain specific conditions, the funding of projects. has low carbon outside its value chain.

However, at the moment, the efforts made by Google, Amazon and Microsoft do not lead to a lasting reduction in their emissions to absolute value (pillar A), and these companies have not published a convincing showing a reduction in emissions, in value. also completely, of their customers, thanks to the services provided (pillar B).

It is first necessary for these companies to set up an ambitious plan of action to reduce their emissions in absolute terms. Currently, their reduction strategy is essentially based on the use of renewable energies.

Reduction targets are primarily based on low -carbon electricity, which is obscure in most of the field of action.

Both at the level of major companies and of service delivery activities clouds, electricity is a major issue for Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft. In fact, the data center is very powerful energy to run servers and cool them. Naturally, these 3 companies seek to supply themselves with low-carbon and renewable energies (EnR) to cover their own consumption.

Three methods are traditionally used to claim the use of renewable electricity to boost the company’s operational activities:

  • the purchase of EnR – GO – Guarantees of Origin through a market system
  • the funding of additional renewable energy capacities through a long -term contract (Power Purchase Agreement – PPA) with a renewable electricity producer (without necessarily a physical link between the financing company and the location of the new capacity)
  • the creation of its own renewable energy generation fleet.

In the first two cases, the company stays in practice powered by the same physical network as before. By contract, it says it buys low -carbon electricity, but physically, the CO2 emissions associated with its consumption depend solely on the electricity mix of the network that supplies its facilities.

However, suppliers of clouds is among the major buyers of “labeled renewable” electricity, without any real physical basis.

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