Big Tech is pouring millions into the wrong climate solution at Davos

Alphabet, Microsoft and Salesforce today committed $500 million for new climate technology that aims to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to prevent it from warming the planet. It is Big Tech’s latest move to push emerging technology forward and portray themselves as global leaders when it comes to taking action against climate change.

Regardless, these companies still have a lot of work to do to tackle their own emissions. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is not the solution to Big Tech’s own pollution.

Certainly, the climate crisis has gotten so bad that leading United Nations climate experts recognize that cutting greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels will no longer be enough. We’ll also need to find ways to bring down tons of CO2 that industry has already pumped into the atmosphere, says a United Nations climate chief report published in April.

The UN report, which brings together the consensus of hundreds of experts around the world, emphasizes fairly specific, limited uses for CDR. It aims primarily to address the legacy of pollution that has accumulated since the Industrial Revolution and to address a small fraction of today’s emissions that are still very difficult to remove using clean energy sources. .

Specifically, the UN report says: “CDR to counterbalance hard-to-reduce residual emissions is inevitable” in scenarios that limit global warming to a more manageable level of 1.5 degrees Celsius. In climate policy jargon, ‘hard-to-reduce residual emissions’ usually come from just a handful of sectors. That includes heavy industry that produces things like cement, steel, aluminum and chemicals. It also extends to heavy transport such as shipping and aviation.

There is just as much pressure on those industries to go low-carbon as there is on Big Tech. But there are special considerations for heavy industry, as it is still much more difficult to light a furnace or fuel an airplane with renewable energy. Batteries are not advanced enough to power large, electrified ships and aircraft over long distances without weighing them down. Cement is responsible for a significant portion of global carbon dioxide emissions, but some of that CO2 comes from a chemical reaction in the manufacturing process — not from burning energy. That is why, compared to other sectors, those kinds of industries may be more dependent on technologies that remove CO2 after it has already been emitted.

The World Economic Forum last year launched an initiative called the First Movers Coalition — which includes Microsoft, Salesforce and Alphabet — that aims to tackle those hard-to-reduce emissions.

But for every other polluter outside those hard-to-fight sectors, including Big Tech, it’s expected that they should. to prevent the vast majority of – if not eliminate – their emissions. Tech companies may have some residual emissions, perhaps from heavy industry in their supply chains, that they may want to reduce after it’s already in the atmosphere. But for tech companies with much of their operations and related emissions in data centers, there’s little excuse for them not to avoid much of their pollution in the first place.

Tech giants pushing up carbon removal say they are setting up the fledgling CDR market to make it easier for other companies to jump on board. Getting more backers at this early stage should make carbon removal more affordable so it can scale up dramatically.

In April, Stripe, Alphabet, Meta, Shopify and other companies made a joint $925 million commitment to buy captured carbon this decade. In 2020, Microsoft promised to remove more carbon dioxide than it emits by 2030. Microsoft will “serve as an expert partner by sharing lessons from its carbon removal auctions,” the World Economic Forum say of the new $500 million pledge made by Big Tech in Davos.

But despite the cascade of new climate promises from Big Tech, many companies’ emissions continue to grow. Microsoft’s emissions, for example, rose from approximately 11.6 million tons of CO2 in fiscal year 2020 to approximately 14 million tons in fiscal year 2021. As the company grew, so did pollution from using Microsoft’s devices and cloud services. The pollution of the planetary heating of Salesforces similarly has: grown together with his company in fiscal year 2022 to the equivalent of more than 1 million tons of CO2.

Largely through carbon offsetting, both companies pay to offset enough of their emissions so that they can say they are carbon neutral. But compensatory projects, such as forest conservation and tree planting, are of no use track record the actual permanent removal of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Plans to build the carbon removal market include efforts to try to make it more reliable than traditional offsets. But for now, the only guaranteed way to avert the climate crisis is to prevent pollution in the first place. And Big Tech is still responsible for a lot of pollution; much of this could be avoided by a faster transition to clean energy. That deserves as much attention, if not more, as it gives to CDR.

“We are proud of the progress we have made, but we also rely on a global system that needs to change,” Max Scher, senior director of sustainability at Salesforce, said in an email to: The edge† “We’re focused on what science tells us we need to do to limit warming to 1.5°C,” Scher said, pointing to renewable energy, nature-based solutions and “carbon removal we need in the coming decades.” will have.” Sales team dedicated to buy $100 million in carbon removal credits as part of today’s bigger pledge.

Microsoft did not immediately comment on The edge† Neither does Google, whose greenhouse gas emissions have fallen slightly since 2018.


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