Microsoft has launched what it called a “moonshot” climate initiative, pledging to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits by 2030.
The company has been carbon neutral since 2012, canceling out its emissions by purchasing renewable energy and carbon offsets. But on Thursday, it committed itself to carbon negativity, joining Ikea and a handful of much smaller companies.
“It won’t be easy for Microsoft to become carbon negative by 2030,” Microsoft president Brad Smith said in a blog post. “But we believe it’s the right goal. And with the right commitment, it’s an achievable goal.”
The commitment will be an expensive one, with Microsoft planning to spend $1 billion over the next four years to fund innovation in reducing, capturing, and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
“Capturing carbon dioxide from the air can still cost up to $600 per ton,” The Verge noted. “At that rate, it could cost Microsoft $9.6 billion just to remove this year’s emissions, let alone everything it’s released since the company’s founding in 1975.”
Microsoft is also planning to switch over to renewable electricity sources in 2025 and start charging its business groups for the greenhouse gases they generate along the entire supply chain. “When it comes to carbon, neutrality is not enough,” Smith said.
According to NPR, “there’s growing consensus that carbon removal technology, paired with dramatic reductions in emissions, will be essential for any successful fight against climate change.”
“There are a lot of emissions up in the atmosphere already, unfortunately,” said Paula DiPerna, an expert on climate change mitigation. “I think the emphasis on removal is welcome.”
However, Greenpeace said Microsoft still needs to address its relationship with oil and gas companies. “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,” said senior campaigner Elizabeth Jardim.
By one estimate, the tech sector will account for up to 3.6% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions this year, more than double the level in 2007.