“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 prevent more 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.
Microsoft’s plan includes running all of their 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 more green.
The exact path to becoming carbon negative is not 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 has not 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 Microsoft CFO Amy Hood. “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 they 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.