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Massive companies' green commitments can't save the planet

Google campus in Mountain View, Calif.
Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. Photo: Amy Osborne/AFP/Getty Images

Amazon unveiled sweeping new energy and climate plans yesterday, and hours later, Google announced its biggest renewable power buys ever.

Why it matters: While the announcements by 2 of the world's biggest companies are stark signs that corporate giants are getting more aggressive about climate change, corporate commitments won't change the underlying trend of global carbon emissions on track to bring warming that blows past the Paris Agreement's temperature goals.

  • And get ready for more pledges around the UN climate conference Monday and the annual Climate Week NYC that begins the same day.

The big picture: The White House pullback combined with growing public and investor pressures have triggered new climate pledges and policies by "subnational" players — cities, states and companies.

  • But a newly updated analysis of thousands of these efforts shows that while they're consequential when carried out, they don't replace — at all — the need for stronger national-level emissions policies.
  • Still, these efforts could provide a significant boost to country-level plans and policies.

What they found: The report, which is from multiple organizations including the NewClimate Institute and Data-Driven EnviroLab, says global emissions in 2030 would be 1.2-2 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent lower than national policies alone if plans by "subnational" players in the world's 10 largest economies are fully implemented.

  • That's roughly equivalent to Canada and Japan’s combined emissions in 2016, the study notes.

Catch up fast: Despite the pessimism, here's a look at what Amazon and Google actually rolled out ...

  • Amazon: The company vowed to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2040; power its facilities and operations with 100% renewable energy by 2030; and buy 100,000 electric delivery vans.
  • Google: The company announced a 1.6-gigawatt package of renewable power deals in the U.S., South America and Europe that the tech behemoth is calling the "biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history."
  • By the way, Google says it already procures enough renewable power to match its annual electricity consumption. But that doesn't mean Google operations are using carbon-free power all the time, something the company hopes to achieve eventually.

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