Microsoft calls for more investment in carbon capture technology

Charred trunks are seen over an expanse of Amazon jungle, recently burned down by loggers and farmers, in Porto Velho, Brazil, August 23, 2019.

Ueslei Marcelino | Reuters

The current race to tackle carbon emissions is pushing companies to support tree planting and other nature-based solutions. This is because other forms of carbon capture technology are too expensive to be attractive right now.

That must change, says Microsoft in an article published in the scientific journal Nature Wednesday.

“It is cheaper and easier to establish trees and enrich soils than to deploy emerging technologies that capture carbon and store it geologically,” the Nature article states.

In January 2020, Microsoft announced that it was aiming to be carbon negative by 2030. This means that as a company, it will remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits.

And by 2050, Microsoft aims to have phased out all the shows it has issued since its inception in 1975.

These are bold and daring goals.

A year after making this commitment, Microsoft announced that it had purchased the phase-out of 1.3 million metric tonnes of carbon from 26 projects around the world. Some of these projects include initiatives to regenerate soil on American farms; expand forests in Peru, Nicaragua and the United States; and pay the Climeworks company, based in Zurich, Switzerland, to use its technology and operate a machine in Iceland that “sucks” carbon dioxide from the air and puts it in the ground where it mineralizes and turns into rock.

Nature’s article summarizes what Microsoft has learned and its call to action for the marketplace and policymakers. It is co-authored by Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s chief environment officer, other members of the Microsoft sustainability team, and experts from Columbia University and the Environmental Defense Fund. It’s also inspired by data that payment processor Stripe has made public.

The trees are tall, but not enough

When Microsoft was looking for proposals to remove carbon from the atmosphere, most involved nature-based storage projects that would sequester carbon for less than 100 years.

The arguments Stripe got for biosphere-based carbon storage projects – which means storing carbon in plants and soils – cost $ 16 per tonne of carbon dioxide.

Locations for geosphere-based carbon storage projects – using technology to remove carbon dioxide and then store it in rocks and minerals – cost between $ 20 and $ 10,000 per tonne and average $ 141 , according to the article.

These awards were “similar” to those Microsoft received, according to the Nature article.

The problem with the cheaper methods is that they are not as reliable. For example, trees can be cut down, burned or destroyed by pests. Natural solutions are also limited by competing uses of land for vital purposes such as agriculture and housing.

To be clear, Microsoft supports tree planting as a way to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Microsoft joined the U.S. chapter of, an effort to plant 1,000 billion trees backed by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, when it launched in August 2020, a Microsoft spokesperson told CNBC.

But even a spokesperson for the effort admits that planting trees won’t be enough.

“Key to the main orientation of the [Nature] is that it describes nature-based solutions as part of the toolbox of carbon reduction strategies – we totally agree with that aspect, ”Michael Becker, communications director for 1t, told CNBC. org.

“There has been a lot of negative media regarding tree initiatives lately, namely the straw man’s argument that ‘planting trees can solve the crisis’ – something with which we strongly disagree, ”Becker said. “Trees are one of our best nature-based solutions, but they alone cannot solve the climate crisis.”

Additionally, Becker pointed out that focuses on growing trees, not just planting.

“Tree planting initiatives are a key part of reforestation commitments and are essential in areas that are too degraded to recover on their own,” Becker told CNBC. “We use the word ‘growth’ to emphasize that it is not enough to put a seedling in the ground: this tree must be supported to maturity to reach its full potential. It also has to be the right species, planted in the right conditions, based on sound science. “

Technology, tracking and standards need to improve

In the Nature article, Microsoft and the other authors argue that the carbon removal market is small and needs to grow and improve.

Microsoft received 189 proposals to phase out 154 megatons of carbon dioxide, but only 55 of those megatons were currently available and only two megatons was what Microsoft considers high-quality carbon dioxide removal.

This market will grow, but more investment is needed to develop carbon capture technologies, and companies need more incentives to use the best carbon capture strategies.

“Nature-based removal and storage, and technology-based and geosphere-based removal and storage are not equivalent products and should not be evaluated as such,” the article said. “The current per tonne pricing encourages companies to buy the lowest quality carbon offsets. “

To improve these incentives, we’ll need much more robust and standardized carbon accounting standards, according to Nature’s article.

Today, there are not even reliable tools to track carbon on a large scale. This makes it difficult for companies to be able to more fully monitor the risks associated with various strategies.

There are groups that are helping develop better tracking, including the international nonprofit Science-based Targets Initiative, the Oxford Compensation Principles from researchers at the University of Oxford, and the Transform to Business Initiative. Net Zero, all mentioned in the article. Additionally, Nature’s article acknowledges the work of the nonprofit Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which has guidelines for assessing a company’s emissions in-house and from energy purchased off-site.

But estimating emissions from an entire supply chain is still very difficult – and vital.

“Three-quarters of Microsoft’s emissions come from these, including building materials, business travel, product lifecycles, and the electricity that customers consume when using Microsoft’s products,” indicates the article.

About Lucille Thompson

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