A new Greenpeace report notes that Microsoft, Amazon and Google are undermining their public carbon commitments through by providing services that allow oil and gas firms extract fossil fuels from the earth.
Google has revealed that it will no longer build custom artificial intelligence (AI) tools that help oil and gas firms extract fossil fuels.
The company made the commitment earlier this month and confirmed the move yesterday following the publication of a Greenpeace report that detailed how Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are using AI technologies to help oil majors find and extract oil and gas deposits around the world.
The practice has become a target for environmental campaigners who have argued that supporting oil extraction runs counter to the tech sectors increasingly vocal pledges to tackle escalating climate risks and pursue net zero emissions goals.
A Google spokesperson said: "Google Cloud is a general purpose infrastructure and data processing platform," they said. "We therefore have companies from several industries using this platform to exit their data centres and run their IT systems on the Cloud. But we will not, for instance, build custom AI / ML (machine learning) algorithms to facilitate upstream extraction in the oil and gas industry."
Greenpeace applauded the new commitment. "While Google still has a few legacy contracts with oil and gas firms, we welcome this indication from Google that it will no longer build custom solutions for upstream oil and gas extraction," said Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA.
The Google spokesperson noted that Google Cloud took approximately $65m from the oil and gas sector in 2019, which accounted for "less than one per cent" of Google Cloud's total revenue.
As such Google Cloud's business with upstream oil and gas is just a tiny fraction of a bigger picture. Greenpeace's report, titled Oil in the Cloud: How Tech Companies are Helping Big Oil Profit from Climate Destruction, cites BloombergNEF statistics that estimate overall spend by oil and gas companies on cloud computing and advanced analytics is set to balloon from roughly $2.5bn this year to $15.7bn in 2030.
These AI services will provide a "critical toolkit" for fossil fuel companies looking to bounce back from the industry's current downturn, Greenpeace warned. Following the crash in oil prices - largely due to the coronavirus crisis squeezing demand at a time when a supply glut was already evident - companies are now turning to computing services to help maximise returns, the report notes.
Accenture estimates that advanced analytics and modelling could generate at much as $425bn in value for the oil and gas sector by 2025.
Greenpeace said there was a "stark disconnect" between Google, Amazon, Microsoft's public climate goals and their ongoing business with oil and gas firms.
"Despite the biggest cloud companies' commitments to address climate change, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon all have connections to some of the world's dirtiest oil companies for the explicit purpose of getting more oil and gas out of the ground and onto the market faster and cheaper," the report notes.
Greenpeace said that the tech giants' contracts were largely focused on extraction activities in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico, as well as the Canadian tar sands, the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic and in the Atlantic and North Sea.
Microsoft, which boasts the most ambitious decarbonisation programme of the three with a pledge to become 'carbon negative' by 2030, has the most contracts with oil and gas companies, according to the report, including a contract with ExxonMobil that could lead to emissions that are greater than 20 per cent of Microsoft's annual carbon footprint.
"Microsoft can never truly achieve its recently announced 'carbon negative' goal while continuing to aid the oil and gas sector with exploration and production," Greenpeace said.
In response to the findings, Microsoft published a blog statement on Tuesday that emphasised the company's commitment to be carbon negative by 2030 and remove all the carbon emitted since founding by mid-century.
"We agree that the world confronts an urgent carbon problem and we all must do more and move faster to reach a net zero carbon future," Microsoft wrote. "The reality is that the world's energy currently comes from fossil fuels and, as standards of living around the world improve, the world will require even more energy."
Amazon, which has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2040, had not replied to a request for comment ahead of this article's publication.
Greenpeace has urged the three tech giants to publicly distance themselves from clients who are making the climate crisis worse and called on then to make public commitments to end all "problematic" contracts.
Correction: This article was amended to reflect the fact that Google's commitment to no longer build custom AI tools for oil and gas was made in early May, not yesterday as previously suggested.
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