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Greenpeace urges AWS, Google and Microsoft to cut cloud ties with oil and gas customers

Environmental group wants three of the public cloud market’s biggest players to stop selling their technology to oil and gas companies – but will they?

Greenpeace is calling on public cloud giants Amazon, Google and Microsoft to reinforce their commitments to tackling climate change by halting sales of their technologies to the oil and gas sector.

The environmental campaign group made the plea as part of its response to news of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ plans to invest $10bn of his own personal wealth into climate change-combating projects through his newly announced Earth Fund initiative.

The initiative was, said Bezos in the Instagram post announcing the project, designed to tackle “the biggest threat to our planet”.

In a statement to Computer Weekly, Elizabeth Jardim, senior campaigner for Greenpeace USA, echoed comments made by some of Bezos’ own employees, who have banded together under the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) banner, that the initiative is welcome, but hypocritical

Particularly as Amazon’s cloud arm, Amazon Web Services (AWS), is a technology provider to businesses in the oil and gas sector, whose activities are known to contribute towards climate change.

“Jeff Bezos is speaking out of both sides of his mouth,” said Jardim. “It’s hypocritical to announce that climate change is the biggest threat to our planet, while at the same time boosting the fossil fuel industry by providing advanced computing technologies to the oil and gas industry so that it can discover and drill more oil, more efficiently. Amazon cannot be a climate champion and help the oil and gas industry drill for more oil, more efficiently.”

As an example, BP is an AWS reference customer which made it known in late 2019 that it intends to go “all-in” on the Amazon public cloud in a push to rationalise its European datacentre footprint. BP is also known to make use of Microsoft’s cloud-based data analytics tools.

Amazon’s close ties with the oil and gas sector have seen it come in for repeated criticism from AECJ, which has previously called on Amazon to stop selling its technologies to the sector.

Also, reports began to circulate earlier this year that Amazon had introduced a tweak to its external communications policy to prevent employees speaking out publicly on climate change matters, and was threatening to sack anyone who did so.

“Amazon cannot claim to take the climate crisis seriously, and then threaten to fire employees who speak out on climate [change],” said Jardim. “The science is clear. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, scale up renewables, and elect politicians who support strong climate policies to have a liveable planet. We eagerly await details about the types of project and innovation that Bezos’ fund will support.” 

At the end of her statement, Jardim also called on Amazon’s public cloud competitors to consider their position on working with companies whose activities are linked to climate change.  

“We hope that Amazon, Google and Microsoft act boldly and take immediate steps to stop accelerating the climate crisis by ending contracts with the oil and gas industry,” she said.

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Computer Weekly put Jardim’s plea to all three firms for a response, and Amazon and Microsoft both outlined how their work with the energy industry as a whole is geared towards helping firms in that sector achieve their sustainability goals. At the time of writing, however, Google had not responded to Computer Weekly’s repeated requests for comment.

A spokesperson for Microsoft provided a statement that said the company acknowledges that “the significance and complexity of the task ahead is incredible and will require contributions from every person and organisation on the planet”.

The spokesperson added: “That’s why we are committed to continuing to work with all our customers, including those in the energy industry, to help them meet today’s business demands while innovating together to achieve the business needs of a net zero carbon future.”

A press representative for Amazon responded by reiterating details of the commitments the company had made to date about addressing its own carbon emissions, including its September 2019 Climate Pledge.

This saw the firm commit to become “net zero carbon” across its entire business by the year 2040, which is 10 years ahead of the 2050 goal set out in the United Nations-backed Paris Agreement.

“Amazon took a bold step when it announced the Climate Pledge, committing the company to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement 10 years early, and we are incredibly excited about the Bezos Earth Fund,” said the company’s spokesperson. “Jeff’s passion and this extraordinary personal contribution to the fight against climate change are going to have a huge impact.”

Amazon also directed Computer Weekly to its public policy on working with energy companies, which states that the firm believes the sector should “have access to the same technologies as other industries” and “will continue to provide cloud services to companies in the energy industry to make their legacy businesses less carbon intensive”.

The policy said this is part of the firm’s push to help its partners “reduce their demand for carbon fuel sources”.

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