Microsoft shoot for the moon with their ‘Moonshot’ pledge

It was refreshing to see another hugely influential agent, Microsoft, deliver a pledge to go carbon negative in late January. In a time where political leaders in the West are failing to appreciate the severity of the climate and ecological crises, corporations have to step up.

Microsoft leaders unveil 'moonshot' courtesy of brian smale| Official Microsoft Blog

We are all familiar with the term “carbon neutral” but Microsoft has plans to go “carbon negative” by 2030. This term means they will be removing more carbon from the atmosphere than perhaps they realize, no small feat given Microsoft’s estimated annual emissions for 2020 total 16 million metric tonnes. Even more ambitious is the pledge to remove all the carbon Microsoft has emitted since it was founded in 1975, within 30 years.

Interestingly whilst neutrality can be achieved by avoiding negative actions rather than initiate positive actions to address climate emissions, going carbon negative does not have similar shortfalls.

Microsoft’s plan to achieve its goals through ‘electrifying’ their vehicle fleet by 2030 and switching energy supply to their infrastructure,-data centers, buildings, campuses – to fully renewable sources. A carbon tax will also be implemented, from which funds raised will be invested in sustainability initiatives, a plan that will be extended to all business divisions and their respective supply chains.

These policies are focused on reducing emissions, removing emissions is harder. A $1bn Climate Innovation Fund is to be created, which will be invested in the development of negative emission technologies (NET). These include technological advances, such as direct air capture, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and natural strategies, such as soil carbon sequestration, reforestation, and afforestation.

Such a bold, ambitious statement by a big business world leader should rightly be applauded. It shows an appreciation of the climate crisis we have yet to see from competitors like Google and Amazon, the latter having committed only to carbon neutrality by the later date of 2040. But it would be foolish to only view this statement through a positive lens.

Microsoft has confirmed it will not stop its dealings with the oil and gas industry, in which the Cloud AI service is vital for new explorations and projects: essentially enabling the very activities contributing to the problem they are trying to solve.

$1bn, or £765m, may seem a large amount; but it represents a mere 2.7% of Microsoft’s profits for the last fiscal year. Their $36.8bn profit represented a rise of 22%. To avoid a situation described by company president Brad Smith as ‘catastrophic’, some may argue that 2.7% doesn’t adequately reflect the scale of crises. The higher investment could potentially accelerate the innovation of NETs, enabling Microsoft to reach their goals faster; perhaps becoming more cost-efficient in the process.

Yet despite criticism, Microsoft is leading the way with this statement. Why should they be expected to invest more than 3% of profits if no other company is doing so on a similar scale? It’s easy to say Microsoft isn’t doing enough with this pledge, but that is too objective, too idealistic. They are by no means solely responsible, by no means should they be solely accountable.

The focus on solving the carbon crisis may also distract from the core issue. Whilst solutions are imperative given the time pressure we face; they are merely continuations of the ‘technology will save us’ attitude. Finding solutions represent more ways to avoid the uncomfortable truth: current consumer habits are driving us to collapse, and they need to change. The question is whether the technology will be

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