CDR: Is the Solution to Global Warming BigTech’s GreenWashing?

Alphabet, Microsoft and Salesforce intend to implement a new green technology, investing 500 million dollars.

This new “Carbon Dioxide Removal” technology is supposed to help avoid global warming. This is one of Big Tech‘s most recent initiatives to promote emerging technology. At the same time, it is presented as a world leader when it comes to taking measures on climate change.

Regardless of this, these companies have a lot of work to do to deal with their own emissions, the removal of carbon dioxide (CDR) is not the solution to the pollution of Big Tech.

The World Economic Forum last year launched an initiative called the First Movers Coalition – which brings together Microsoft, Salesforce and Alphabet – that aims to tackle these difficult to limit emissions.

The aim of the initiative is to reduce their emissions – if not eliminate them. Tech companies may have some residual emissions, perhaps from heavy industry in their supply chains, which they would like to reduce after they have already entered the atmosphere. But for tech companies with much of their activities and related emissions to data centers, there’s no excuse for the pollution they cause, from the start.

Tech giants advertising carbon removal say they are creating the newly formed CDR market to make it easier for other companies to follow the new trend. Gaining more proponents at this early stage is supposed to make the removal of coal more affordable so that it can expand drastically.

In April, Stripe, Alphabet, Meta, Shopify and other companies jointly made a commitment of 925 million dollars for the carbon market this decade.

In 2020, Microsoft promised to eliminate more carbon dioxide than it emits by 2030. Microsoft “will serve as an expert partner, sharing the lessons from its auctions for the removal of carbon dioxide”, reports the World Economic Forum on the new commitment of 500 million dollars taken over by Big Tech in Davos.

However, despite the deluge of new climate commitments from Big Tech, emissions from many companies continue to rise. Microsoft’s emissions, for example, have increased from about 11.6 million metric tonnes of CO2 in the financial year 2020 to around 14 million metric tonnes in fiscal year 2021.As its operations grew, pollution from the use of Microsoft’s devices and cloud services also increased. Salesforces’ ecological footprint grew similarly along with its business in fiscal year 2022, generating over 1 million metric tons of CO2.

To a large extent both companies pay to cancel several of their emissions so that they can say they are “Carbon Neutral.” But compensation projects, such as forest conservation and tree planting, do not have a good track record of actually permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Plans to develop the carbon removal market include efforts to make it more reliable than traditional offsets. But, for now, the only guaranteed way to prevent the climate crisis is to prevent pollution in the first place.

Great Technology is still responsible for creating a lot of pollution— much of which could be avoided by a faster transition to clean energy. This deserves the same attention, if not more, as that given to the CDR.

“We’re proud of the steps we’ve taken, but we’re also counting on a global system that needs to change,” said Max Scher, senior sustainability manager at Salesforce.”We’re focusing on what science tells us we need to do to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C,” Scher said, pointing to renewables, nature-based solutions, and the “carbon removal we’ll need in future decades.” Salesforce today pledged to buy 100 million in coal removal plants as part of the broader commitment.”

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