16 January 2020
By Leah Crane
Microsoft has big climate ambitions. On 16 January, the company announced an initiative to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it and its suppliers emit annually by 2030. Company officials said that by 2050, Microsoft intends to remove from the atmosphere the equivalent of all the carbon it has emitted since its foundation in 1975.
“The world today is confronted with an urgent climate crisis,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at an event on 16 January. “Each of us is going to need to take action, and that includes businesses… As a global technology company, we have a particular responsibility to do our part.”
This year, Microsoft expects to emit 16 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, said Brad Smith, the company’s president. Since 2012, Microsoft has technically been carbon neutral, meaning its emissions are balanced out by investments that counteract emissions, like preserving forests.
But a post on the official Microsoft blog pointed out that “neutral is not enough to address the world’s needs”. Widespread carbon neutrality may slow climate change, but it will not stop it.
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Microsoft’s plan includes running all of its data centres and buildings on renewable energy by 2025, increasing internal incentives to lower emissions in each division of the business, and putting incentives in place for suppliers to become greener.
The exact path to becoming carbon negative isn’t as clear. “It will start with more nature-based approaches, because that’s what is generally available and affordable today,” said Smith. “But what we’ll look forward to doing, and what the world needs, is new technology.” Planting trees isn’t enough on its own, but the technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere on a large scale hasn’t been developed yet.
Microsoft is also setting up a $1 billion fund to be spent on accelerating the advance of new technology that will hopefully aid in the fight against climate change, said Amy Hood, Microsoft’s chief financial officer. “This is just a fraction of what is needed to solve this problem,” she said. “We hope that by doing this we will inspire both governments and other companies to invest with us.”
“This latest announcement is part of a broader awareness from American businesses that they have a vital and powerful role to play in helping drive a transition to a low-carbon economy,” says Rachel Cleetus at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Massachusetts.
This shows that Microsoft is getting serious about addressing climate change, Elizabeth Jardim at Greenpeace in Washington DC said in a statement. But she expressed concern that the firm may not be entirely committed. “While there is a lot to celebrate in Microsoft’s announcement, a gaping hole remains unaddressed: Microsoft’s expanding efforts to help fossil fuel companies drill more oil and gas with machine-learning and other AI technologies,” she said.
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