Microsoft announced that it will remove all the carbon dioxide it has released into the atmosphere by 2050, it announced today. The company promised to become negative carbon by 2030, which means it plans to extract more carbon dioxide that heats the planet than it emits.
The technology necessary to realize that goal remains expensive and is not widely available commercially, so the company also plans to spend $ 1 billion over the next four years to finance innovation in the reduction, capture and elimination of carbon dioxide of the atmosphere
The company has been carbon neutral since 2012, canceling its emissions through the purchase of renewable energy and carbon offsets. It was then that he began charging an internal rate in his business units for the greenhouse gases they generate as a way to make their divisions reduce their emissions. Those measures are no longer ambitious enough for the company, according to Microsoft President Brad Smith. Now he plans to get all of his electricity use from renewable energies by 2025. And he will start charging his businesses for the gases that heat the planet they generate throughout the entire supply chain to help finance their new climate initiatives.
“It reminds me of the Microsoft of yesteryear. They used to do big and bold things like this all the time and I’m glad to see that ethos returns on a planetary level. It has also been late for a long time, “explains Julio Friedmann, principal investigator at Columbia University who previously directed the R&D department of the Department of Energy in carbon capture and storage. The edge.
Microsoft’s boldest commitment is its drive to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The company is relying on nascent technology and is injecting a significant investment in a still controversial climate solution. Advocates for carbon sequestration, such as Friedmann, say the technology is mature enough to achieve Microsoft’s goals. It is too expensive right now. Microsoft’s support, and its $ 1 billion cash infusion, could ultimately make technology cheaper and more attractive to other companies looking for new ways to be green.
Microsoft expects to produce 16 million metric tons of carbon this year, roughly equivalent to 15 coal-fired power plants. Capturing carbon dioxide from the air can cost up to $ 600 per ton. At that rate, it could cost Microsoft $ 9.6 billion just to eliminate this year’s emissions, let alone everything it has launched since the company’s founding in 1975.
But as more people adopt negative emission technology, prices are expected to fall, just as the cost of solar energy fell from approximately $ 30 per watt in 1980 to less than $ 1 per watt in 2019.
“The only way we can move forward is by taking measures that remove carbon from the environment,” Smith said at a media event this week. However, he acknowledged that “the technology we will need to solve this problem does not exist today, at least not in the way that is affordable and effective in the way that the world would require.”
Critics of carbon sequestration, such as presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, worry that relying on carbon extraction after being released reduces pollutant pressure to burn less fossil fuel. Carbon sequestration is popular within the fossil fuel industry; 10 oil and gas companies together decided to channel $ 1 billion to develop the technologies in 2016.
For its part, Microsoft says it has committed to drastically reduce emissions by more than half by 2030. Switching to renewable sources of electricity in 2025 will lead to that goal, but it will have to make adjustments in other areas. good. The company is responsible not only for the greenhouse gas emissions it emits directly, but also for the emissions of the suppliers with which it contracts and the contamination of consumers who use its products. When it comes to the Microsoft Xbox, for example, the company is taking into account the contamination of the materials it took to make the game console, the electricity Microsoft uses for its operations, the shipping emissions and, ultimately , the energy that someone uses when plugged in. in and play.
To address climate change with negative emission technologies, Microsoft should also ensure that there is a secure and essentially permanent way to store the carbon it captures so that it is not released again. “The devil is always in the details with this. And I think it will be really important for Microsoft to be transparent about what exactly they mean by negative carbon and how they plan to get there, “says Noah Deich, executive director of the NGO Carbon180, formerly the Center for Carbon Elimination. The edge.
Microsoft is still doing business with fossil fuel companies. In September, it announced an important agreement with the giants of the oil industry Chevron and Schlumberger to “accelerate the development of native cloud solutions and offer actionable information about data for the industry” using the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform. In its announcement today, Microsoft said it will launch a new “sustainability calculator” to help Azure customers track and report their carbon footprint.
Microsoft employees have asked the company to take more important measures to address the climate crisis. In a September letter, they demanded zero contracts with fossil fuel companies, zero funds for politicians pushing climate denial and zero emissions by 2030.