Amazon will have a hard time reaching net zero after emissions rose 18% last year

  • Published on August 10th, 2022

This week, retail giant Amazon announced that its carbon emissions jumped by a staggering 18% in 2021 during the pandemic and, overall, its emissions are up 40% since 2019. The vast majority of these increases came from many of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind things it takes to get billions of packages to consumers’ front doors—think: ships, planes, trucks, and warehouses.

Amazon truck... hard to reach net zero with 18% annual emissions increase
(Photo by Marco Verch on Flickr under a Creative Commons 2.0 license)

By Dawny’all Heydari
Common Dreams

As communities here at home and around the world face increasingly more deadly heatwaves, drought and flooding, and wildfires as a result of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, we need Amazon to rapidly accelerate its transition to 100% zero emission supply chain operations or otherwise be regulated to do so.

There should be no reason why Amazon—the number two retailer in the United States that shipped more than 5 billion packages in 2021 and generated $470 billion in revenue—should not be actively curbing its emissions now, in the 2020s, the most decisive decade of world climate history. Last year’s rise in Amazon’s climate emissions represent tremendous negligence toward frontline climate communities, our global community, and our planet. Amazon must end its port pollution now and Ship It Zero by 2030—commit to 100% zero-emission ocean cargo shipping this decade—to do its part to save our home on Earth for generations to come.

Kara Hurst, vice president of worldwide sustainability at Amazon, told the Wall Street Journal, “The hardest thing for any company to do is to take [this] commitment and operationalize it.” With our world currently on fire,  the largest online monopoly in modern capitalist history has no more time for excuses.

As Amazon’s emissions rose last year, its hometown and people across the nation felt the worsening impacts of climate change.

  • Record breaking heat in the Pacific Northwest in summer 2021 killed at least 600 people across Oregon, Washington, and Western Canada, what officials termed a “mass casualty event.”
  • Nationally, heat-related deaths jumped by 56% from 2020, up to 1,577 in 2021.
  • With sea level rise a record high in 2021, we saw major damage to coastal buildings, including the June 24 condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, which killed 98 people.
  • Last year in New Jersey, dozens of people drowned in their basement apartments and cars when floodwater rose as Hurricane Ida passed by.

In addition to contributing to the climate crisis, Amazon’s rising emissions exacerbate a public health and human rights crisis at America’s ports. Amazon’s ships currently run on heavy fuel oil, the dirtiest fossil fuel in the market, a tar like substance that contains asthma, cancer, and cardiovascular disease-causing air pollutants. Ship congestion at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in 2021 added to Southern California’s air the equivalent in cancerous particulate matter emissions of 100,000 big rig trucks per day. A Ship It Zero campaign report found that both Amazon and Target play an “outsized role” in California port congestion and pollution, causing up to 8 years shorter life expectancy in port-adjacent neighborhoods.

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe and Amazon CEO Andy Jassy check out the electric delivery vehicle at Amazon's headquarters in Seattle.
Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe and Amazon CEO Andy Jassy check out the first electric vehicles to be delivered to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. in July, 2022.

Amazon’s sustainability report underlines the ugly reality that the retail giant has yet to commit to more aggressive decarbonization and port public health goals. That’s why the Ship It Zero campaign pushes major retailers, including Amazon, to set sail on 100% zero-emission ocean cargo ships by 2030 and to end port pollution now by immediately plugging ships at and near port into renewable electricity.

The truth is, Amazon has made some significant announcements for addressing climate change overall, and in the ocean shipping industry, specifically. Amazon unveiled its “Climate Pledge” in 2019, and as a part of the plan, Amazon has committed to be carbon neutral by 2040. Last year, Amazon, with IKEA and other corporations, announced a landmark commitment to move their products off of fossil-fueled maritime cargo ships by 2040. But, unfortunately, even this landmark commitment would not do enough to address the urgent climate and public health crisis sparked by the ocean shipping sector.

Ship It Zero members stand in the lobby of Amazon's Seattle headquarters with a mock shipping container as they urge the retailer to use only zero-carbon-emission boxships by 2030. Photo: Ship It Zero
Ship It Zero members stand in the lobby of Amazon’s Seattle headquarters with a mock shipping container as they urge the retailer to use only zero-carbon-emission boxships by 2030. (Photo: Ship It Zero via TradeWinds)

Indeed, the market for transoceanic cargo shipping has grown over the past several decades, and the pandemic accelerated the trend toward shipping goods bought online. Today, over 50,000 merchant ships carry around 80% of global trade, and ocean-going cargo volumes are projected to grow by as much as 130% by 2050. According to Amazon’s sustainability report, the e-commerce giant’s use of fossil fuels from operations jumped by 27% in 2021, a stunning number for a company that has long professed leadership in addressing the climate crisis. Amazon and big retailers cannot continue to ship their goods on fossil fueled ships with the assumption that they will meet their sustainability goals.

Over the last year, the city councils of Los Angeles and Long Beach passed resolutions calling for 100% zero-emission ocean cargo ships at their ports by 2030. Together, these cities house the largest port complex in the Western Hemisphere, which Amazon disproportionately ships through.

In addition, the Ports of Shanghai, Los Angeles, and Long Beach announced the world’s first green international shipping corridor, set to go into effect by 2030. The reality is, the tides of policy are changing in a sustainable direction for the future of Amazon’s ocean shipping logistics this decade.

Amazon’s sustainability report reveals that it is currently going backwards on its  decarbonization commitments, at a moment in time when our world is on fire. It is time Amazon’s leadership get a handle on its climate strategy or for our government to take significantly greater steps to set pollution standards for its monopolies’ use of ships, planes, trucks, and warehouses.

Dawny’all Heydari leads Pacific Environment’s Ship It Zero campaign to move the world’s largest retail companies to achieve zero-emission shipping by 2030.


(Originally appeared at Common Dreams. Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.)




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