Big tech commits future mistakes as Alphabet, Microsoft, and Salesforce today announced a $500 million pledge for new climate technology aimed at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and preventing global warming.
It’s the latest attempt by Big Tech to advance developing technology. They do this to portray themselves as global champions in the fight against climate change.
Nevertheless, these firms still have a long way to go in terms of dealing with their own emissions. For Big Tech’s own emissions, carbon dioxide removal (CDR) isn’t the answer.
The climate problem has worsened to the point where senior climate experts at the United Nations are concerned. They admit that lowering greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels will no longer suffice.
We’ll also need to find ways to draw down the quantities of CO2 that industry has already blasted into the sky. This is according to a key United Nations climate assessment released in April.
The United Nations documentation, which represents the opinion of hundreds of experts from around the world, highlights CDR’s very particular and limited use.
Its primary goal is to address the legacy of pollution that has accumulated since the Industrial Revolution. This also includes a tiny fraction of current emissions that are still impossible to eliminate using clean energy sources.
According to the UN report, “CDR to offset hard-to-abate residual emissions is unavoidable.” This is in scenarios that limit global warming to a more bearable level of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Hard-to-abate residual emissions” arise from a small number of industries, according to climate policy jargon. This comprises heavy industry, which produces cement, steel, aluminum and chemicals, among other things. It also includes heavy-duty modes of transportation such as shipping and aviation.
Big Tech Commits Future Mistakes
There is far too much demand on those businesses as there is on Big Tech to decarbonize. However, there are unique issues for heavy industries. This is because firing up a kiln or fueling a jet with renewable energy is currently considerably more challenging.
Large, electrified ships and planes can’t be powered for long distances since batteries aren’t advanced enough. Cement is responsible for a large portion of a large number of CO2 emissions.
However, some of that CO2 is produced by a chemical reaction during the manufacturing process rather than by consuming energy. As a result, compared to other industries, these industries may rely more on technologies that remove CO2 after it has been emitted.
Last year, the World Economic Forum formed the First Movers Coalition. This includes Microsoft, Salesforce and Alphabet with the goal of reducing those difficult-to-abate emissions.
Every other polluter is expected to reduce—if not eliminate — its emissions. This is outside of those difficult-to-abate sectors such as Big Tech. Tech firms may have residual emissions in their supply chains. This includes heavy industries that they’d like to reduce after they’re already in the atmosphere.
However, because data centers house so much of a digital company’s operations and emissions, there’s no reason for them not to prevent most of their pollution in the first place.
Big Tech Commits Future Mistakes by committing $500 million in the wrong direction
Big Tech made future mistakes by committing $500 million in the wrong direction, which will be ineffective. Tech behemoths touting carbon removal claim they’re establishing the nascent CDR market. This is to make it easier for other businesses to join. Increasing the number of backers at this early stage is expected to make carbon removal more economical. This allows it to scale up significantly.
Alphabet, Stripe, Meta, Shopify and other companies signed a $925 million promise to buy captured carbon this decade back in April. Microsoft committed in 2020 to removing more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits by 2030.
The World Economic Forum said Microsoft’s new $500 million pledge in Davos will allow it to “act as an expert partner by sharing learning from its carbon removal auctions.”
Despite a flurry of new climate pledges from Big Tech, many companies’ emissions continue to rise. Microsoft, for example, increased their CO2 emissions from around 11.6 million metric tons in the fiscal year 2020 to almost 14 million metric tons in the fiscal year 2021.
As Microsoft’s business increased, so did the pollution caused by its gadgets and cloud services. Salesforce’s global warming pollution has risen to the equivalent of nearly 1 million metric tons of CO2 in its fiscal year 2022, growing in lockstep with its company.
Both corporations pay to cancel out enough of their emissions through carbon offsets so they may claim to be carbon neutral. However, offset efforts such as forest restoration and tree planting have a poor track record of actually removing CO2 from the atmosphere permanently.