Amazon loses fight to have Australian greenhouse emissions data kept a secret

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The Clean Energy Regulator has denied an application from Amazon to keep its greenhouse gas emissions secret, with the data now publicly available.

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The Clean Energy Regulator has refused a request from Amazon to have its greenhouse gas emissions data withheld from public release, after unsuccessfully arguing such data could reveal trade secrets.

On Monday, the Clean Energy Regulator published greenhouse gas emissions data for Amazon Corporate Services, the arm of the global retail giant that primarily provides data hosting services, revealing the company had emissions of 55,739‬ tonnes in the 2017-18 financial year.

The figures also show Amazon consumed 243,570 Gigajoules of energy in the same period.

Corporate greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption data is collected and published publicly under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting scheme (NGERs) administrated by the Clean Energy Regulator.

The NGERs scheme works to provide a level of transparency into the environmental footprint of Australia’s largest emitters.

“NGER data has been published following the Clean Energy Regulator’s decision, on Friday 22 November 2019, to refuse Amazon Corporate Services Pty Ltd’s application to have its data withheld from publication,” the Clean Energy Regulator’s website says.

The data places Amazon at the lower end of the 413 companies that are required to publicly report their emissions and energy data, but does ensure Amazon is above the minimum reporting thresholds of 50,000 tonnes for greenhouse gas emission and 200,000 GJ for energy consumption.

Almost all of Amazon’s greenhouse gas emissions are in the form of indirect Scope-2 emissions, and would most likely relate to the energy consumed in the operation of the company’s data centres.

In a partially redacted document obtained by RenewEconomy via a freedom of information request, Amazon submitted an application form to the regulator requesting to have its greenhouse and energy data withheld on the basis that the “release of the information… would negatively affect Amazon’s competitive position and impact our legitimate interests.”

Amazon sought to argue that the publication of energy consumption data could likely lead to the revelation of trade secrets, and would unfairly reveal information that provide a commercial advantage to Amazon’s competitors.

The application, which was lodged with the Clean Energy Regulator in October 2018, suggests that Amazon believes the emissions and energy consumption data could reveal information that “has a significant commercial value.”

But, more than a year later, the Clean Energy Regulator disagreed with Amazon’s arguments, deciding that the release of the data would neither reveal trade secrets or any other matter of commercial value to Amazon.

Amazon had fought to prevent even the application form being released under the freedom of information request, and was only released, in a redacted form, following an internal review by the Clean Energy Regulator.

When the greenhouse gas and energy data was originally published by the Clean Energy Regulator, Amazon’s data was initially withheld from publication, while the regulator assessed the merits of Amazon’s application.

An ABC investigation into Amazon’s practises relating to emissions and energy reporting found that the company has a long history of seeking to keep such information under wraps, and has refused to participate in disclosure initiatives like the Carbon Disclosure Project, with the company being singled out for criticism in a transparency campaign run by the project.

It is an unusual level of secrecy for a company that ranks amongst one of the world’s largest and has a growing presence in Australia.

Amazon told RenewEconomy that the company invested in the sustainability of its ‘web services’ business, and said that believes it is able to run its data centres more efficiently than its competitors.

“Amazon Web Services is committed to running our business in the most environmentally friendly way possible, and our scale allows us to achieve higher resource utilization and energy efficiency than the typical on-premises data centre,” managing director for Amazon Web Services in Australia and New Zealand Paul Migliorini told RenewEconomy.

“AWS data centres are also more energy efficient than enterprise sites due to comprehensive efficiency programs that touch every facet of our facilities.”

“In addition to the environmental benefits inherently associated with running applications in the cloud, AWS exceeded 50 per cent renewable energy usage for 2018. Globally, Amazon has over 70 renewable energy projects that have the capacity to generate over 1,900 MW and deliver more than 5.3 million MWh of energy annually.”

Amazon also flagged that the first renewable energy project commissioned by the company outside of the United States and the European Union would occur in Australia, with further details to be announced soon.

The release of the data followed a proposed senate motion that had been lodged by Australian Greens leader Richard Di Natale that called for the release of Amazon’s greenhouse emissions data.

The motion was subsequently passed by the federal Senate on Monday, without an objection from the government. It appears that the Clean Energy Regulator had already made a determination to publish the previously withheld data.

Australian Greens climate spokesperson Adam Bandt said that Amazon’s track record on emissions reporting highlighted the need for stronger climate policies.

“When one of the world’s largest corporations tries to hide information about their pollution and treats its workers poorly, it’s clear we need a Green New Deal,” Bandt said.

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