Davos 2022 - Alphabet, Microsoft and Salesforce sign up to $0.5 billion carbon removal commitment

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan May 25, 2022
The First Movers Coalition now has 50 signatories, including tech leaders like Alphabet and Microsoft throwing their weight behind carbon removal alongside Salesforce.


Alphabet, Microsoft and Salesforce are collectively committing $500 million in carbon removal by 2030 as the First Movers Coalition (FMC) expands its operational footprint and membership.

The FMC was launched by President Biden of the US and the World Economic Forum at COP26 in Glasgow last year to de-carbonize the heavy industry and long-distance transport sectors responsible for 30% of global emissions. Two new sectors have now been added to the mission - aluminium and carbon dioxide removal - as the number of private sector firms signing up to the Coalition tops 50.

Carbon dioxide removal is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away. The Coalition notes that the latest Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states that lack of progress on emissions mitigation to date means that limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5⁰C will now be impossible without carbon removal solutions.

Salesforce was part of the launch of the Coalition and is now joined by Alphabet and Microsoft among other representatives of the tech industry. Microsoft had felt left out, joked Microsoft President and Vice-Chairman Brad Smith:

I have to admit that when I was in Glasgow, I saw the meeting of the First Movers taking place and I turned to our team and I said, ‘Why aren't we in that meeting?’.

Noting that the likes of Microsoft and Salesforce more traditionally compete with one another - to say the least! - he added:

We do a lot to compete with each other, but we're really sitting on the same side of history. And I think we're sitting on the side of a table that will continue to grow.

Why carbon dioxide removal? 

On the importance of carbon dioxide removal, Smith explained:

We have to drive a massive reduction in emissions, but there is still going to be carbon that is emitted and it needs to be balanced with carbon that is removed, so that you get to net zero. At Microsoft, we’re proud of the fact that during the last two years, we contracted for 2.8 million tonnes of carbon removal. But there's some challenges with that. First of all, when you look at the scale that will be necessary, this is like dropping for drips of water in the Pacific Ocean. It's almost nothing.

He added that Microsoft founder Bill Gates was among those who told him that this was not good enough:

He would basically say it for two reasons. One is he would say, ‘It's not durable. We need to get carbon out of the environment and we need to keep it out of the environment for at least 1000 years’. If you look at the definition today of durable removal that this Coalition is advancing, it is based on precisely that standard. And the second thing Bill would say is, 'It needs to be scalable and it won't be scalable unless two other conditions are met'.

One, it's going to take real technology innovation. Second, perhaps most of all, we need to build a market because that's the only way things ultimately will scale. And that's what Google and Salesforce and Microsoft today together are committing to do - to spend a substantial amount of money, half a billion dollars by 2030, on durable removable. That, by definition, will require the use of new technology with large amounts, at least 1 million tonnes for each of us. I think we're going to easily surpass that, but really, this is about filling a market and validating the market so it can take off and grow.

Long term

Sustainability has been core to everything we do, said Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat, arguing that her organization has a lot of efforts underway across the time spectrum:

We’re doing things with both immediate impacts and also with longer term impacts. First, we made a commitment that by year end 2022, we would help a billion people take action to live more sustainably. We're doing that with data, in Search, with Maps. So, for example, when you go on Google Maps, you'll get the greenest routes. With our enterprise customers, we have this wonderful asset, Google Earth Engine. We've mapped the planet. When you combine that with data analytics, and AI, we can help companies look through their supply chain. So, for example, we're working with Unilever, which wants to make sure it can see through its supply chain to mitigate any risks around deforestation.

And Alphabet is putting its own house in order, she added:

We made a commitment within our own operations. We set a goal to be net zero by 2030 throughout our operations and value chain, and that also includes 24/7 carbon free energy for all of our data centers and our offices. In fact, we're already running five data centers on 90% carbon free energy.

The critical point is that no one entity can do this alone. There's just real impact in power and public private collaboration. We do believe it's the only way to solve the climate crisis. And we think the First Movers Coalition is absolutely critical.

Capitalism re-invented

Picking up on his comments yesterday about the need for a new environmental capitalism, Salesforce co-Marc Benioff, whose firm is already able to boast net zero credentials, welcomed the expansion of the FMC membership:

This environmental capitalism, this is something that I personally so badly want to see, every company becoming part of this movement. We're all becoming net zero. Salesforce is already net zero and fully renewable today. This is extremely important to us. What that means is, we all have to continue to reduce our emissions. There's no substitute for that. And then we need these new solutions. That's why FMC is so important.

Why we're joining this multi-million dollar commitment is because we are very much energizing this ecopreneur revolution. [It is] this idea that there's so many exciting new technologies that you've seen created, companies that are getting funded by these next generation energy consortiums, things we could have never thought of even maybe just three, four or five years ago, that we can put into action today.

There’s also a need to sequester 200 Gigatonnes of carbon right now, he added:

That is why two years ago, we were here [at Davos] and we introduced 1 Trillion Trees...We can see a clear trajectory to our goal of the ability to conserve and plant a trillion trees by 2030.

Noting that 65 US companies have joined Salesforce in 1t.org initiative, Benioff also paid tribute to  Bill Gates’s long-standing efforts, stating:

When he went into technology, he was excited and thrilled about technology and inspired people like me to follow him. Today, I think that both of us look at the environmental world and say, ‘Wow, if we were starting over today, we'd go into this environmental technology and we would be ecopreneurs, not tech entrepreneurs’.

For his part, Gates concluded:

Solving climate change is harder than any problems mankind has ever solved.

Back in 2015, there wasn't a lot happening. We got the Paris Accords. But the R&D budgets weren't high enough. The venture funding wasn't there. The innovative ideas weren't moving fast enough…The First Movers Coalition is about engaging the private sector, particularly on the demand side.

Today's a great milestone in a very difficult long term project.

My take

As Gates notes, the world faces a long term project here. But the expansion of the First Movers Coalition is hugely encouraging as a step forward towards what we can only hope might one day become the All Movers Coalition!

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