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Microsoft Commits $1 Billion to Going 'Carbon Negative' in 10 Years

Microsoft is aiming to become "carbon negative" by 2030 thanks to a companywide carbon-reduction initiative it announced on Thursday.

These efforts, if extended to 2050, will have removed the company's carbon emissions since its founding back in 1975, company officials claimed, although that plan will depend, in part, on some carbon-removal technologies not yet available. In the meantime, Microsoft will rely on common methods, such as tree planting to sequester carbon, prior to the emergence of these new technologies.

Microsoft's portfolio of "negative emission technologies" potentially will include things like "afforestation and reforestation, soil carbon sequestration, bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCs), and direct air capture (DAC)," according to an announcement.

$1B Climate Fund
The company's carbon-reduction plans were announced on Thursday in a public presentation, available on demand here. It featured CEO Satya Nadella, Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood and President Brad Smith. Also joining the presentation was Lucas Joppa, Microsoft's chief environmental officer.

During the talk, Nadella announced a Microsoft $1 billion Climate Innovation Fund. It'll be used to invest in new technologies and provide capital to people working on the global-warming crisis. Hood said that Microsoft will form the $1 billion fund by taking on debt or direct equity.

"We understand that this [fund] is just a fraction of the investment needed, but our hope is that it spurs more governments and companies to invest in new ways as well," Microsoft indicated in its announcement.

Carbon Measurements
Smith said that protecting the planet was "the ultimate moonshot." Microsoft plans to take three steps to help, including having a commitment to transparency on carbon emissions, fostering an effort to remove regulatory barriers to carbon-reduction technologies and advancing market-based incentives to put a price on carbon.

Microsoft is planning to publish annual reports that will share its carbon emissions data. Smith added that the world needs a consistent way to measure carbon.

Microsoft has signed on to the United Nation's Business Ambition plan for setting a 1.5-degrees Centigrade temperature increase limit, Smith indicated. The Business Ambition plan currently has 75 CEO signatories. It aims for "a net-zero emissions economy by 2050."

Microsoft contrasted the net-zero carbon goal with being "carbon neutral." Microsoft claims to have already "achieved carbon neutrality primarily by investing in offsets that primarily avoid emissions instead of removing carbon that has already been emitted." However, instead of being carbon-neutral, the goal should be achieving net-zero emissions, "meaning that humanity must remove as much carbon as it emits each year," Microsoft argued.

Microsoft plans to achieve its goals by working with its partners, as well as carrying out its own initiatives. Moreover, by the year 2025, Microsoft will have power purchase agreements in place for 100 percent renewable energy. "We will be a 100 percent green company," Smith said.

Microsoft estimated that it'll be responsible for 16 million metric tons of carbon production for this year alone, Smith indicated.

Microsoft explained that scientists measure carbon production in terms of three scopes. Scope 1 represents direct emissions, such as using a car. Scope 2 concerns indirect the emissions that come from using electricity or heat. Scope 3 (the largest source of carbon emissions) represents indirect emissions from all other activities.

Microsoft claims that 12 million metric tons of its 16 million metric tons output estimated for this year will fall into the Scope 3 category. The whole approach to the climate crisis should be based on good "carbon math," Microsoft argued.

What About Growth?
Missing from Microsoft's calculations was the very thing that has boosted Microsoft as one of the top companies on the planet, with one of the highest market capitalizations -- namely, capitalism itself. Like a cancer, capitalism constantly needs to grow to thrive. It has historically accelerated its growth, in part, by externalizing its costs to the general public, including pollution costs. However, the effects of global warming are making those sorts of externalizations harder to conceal.

Microsoft's datacenters consume lots of energy and have been expanded worldwide as Microsoft steers the world toward cloud computing and using services. Microsoft has now published a Microsoft Sustainability Calculator that purports to show the efficiencies of using Azure services versus a local datacenter -- provided that you trust Microsoft's calculations.

Joppa described the Microsoft Sustainability Calculator as a representation of the many Microsoft products that will focus on gaining carbon clarity. He also described some of Microsoft's partner efforts during the talk. Johnson Controls is using wind-powered Azure services to control heating in buildings. Vattenfall helps ensure that renewable energy gets used in Azure datacenters. SilviaTerra uses AI and satellite imagery to count trees and understand their carbon sequestration potential, Joppa said.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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