Microsoft: Solving the climate crisis will require moon landing levels of tech innovation

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Microsoft’s chief environmental officer says it’s not too late to prevent a climate disaster, but doing so will require a group effort and levels of tech innovation on a par with those needed to put a man on the moon

Caroline Donnelly

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Published: 27 Oct 2021 14:00

Solving the climate crisis will require a large-scale collaborative effort and the same levels of technology innovation that allowed humans to land on the moon.

That is according to Microsoft chief environmental officer Lucas Joppa, who is in charge of the development and delivery of the software giant’s sustainability strategy, which has already seen it commit to becoming a climate-negative entity by 2030.

During a briefing session with the press, entitled The Path To Net Zero, Joppa spoke at length about the scale of the task facing society when it comes to halting the pace of climate change, as well as the efforts that are already under way across the globe to address this.

“The scientific community has concluded that human activity has released more than two trillion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases since the first industrial revolution, and most of that was emitted just since the 1950s,” said Joppa. “But while the climate science is dire, we are energised by the activity and passion of citizens, businesses and governments that are already taking action.

“So far, nearly 2,000 companies have already set reduction goals or net-zero targets in countries like the United States, and those within the European Union and across the world are putting in place ambitious policy proposals that will establish their countries’ trajectories towards the net-zero future.” 

This is important, said Joppa, because the world’s climate experts all agree that addressing climate change is not something that can be done in isolation, but is a problem that will require “people, companies, industries and nations” to work together to solve and curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

The technology industry, specifically, has an integral part to play in this work, given that the global economy is becoming increasingly digitised and reliant on hyperscale datacentres to function.

Which puts companies like Microsoft at the forefront of the fight against climate change, given that the datacentres they operate are, as Joppa said, the “compute engines of the cloud”. They are responsible for “powering critical life and safety services,” but they cannot do this at the expense of the environment, he said. “At Microsoft, we faced an important challenge: scaling our compute power to progress digital economies, research and inclusive economic opportunities, all while also preserving the only planet we have.”

These are the reasons why Microsoft previously committed to becoming a carbon-negative and zero-waste entity, and has also pledged to replace more water than it consumes across its entire business by 2030.

“They are commitments that span our entire business and include engaging with customers to transform and build products that enable that transition,” said Joppa. “Progress will require measurement and technology breakthroughs on a par with those that propelled humanity to the moon if we want to solve this global crisis.”

And although it may seem like an insurmountable task, there is still time to “curb emissions and transform society”, but it will require a group effort to achieve this, he added.

“We can only accomplish this if organisations around the world take decisive action beyond offsetting carbon emissions, using new tools and processes that are being created now to transform to a net-zero world,” he said.

“In collaboration with our customers, partners and consumers, we believe we can truly make an outsized impact on climate change by leveraging the power of technology.”

To this end, the company used the Path to Net Zero event to confirm that its Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability offering is set to be made generally available to customers today (27 October).

Originally announced in July 2021, the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability is billed as a means of enabling enterprises to record, report, reduce and replace their greenhouse gas emissions with greater ease with the help of automation and real-time dataflows.

To this end, the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability comprises a series of software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings that will allow CIOs to track and report the carbon emissions generated across their organisation by their cloud, device and application usage habits.

It is also designed so that organisations can pinpoint specific parts of their operations that are not on track to meet their prescribed emissions reduction targets, for example, so that corrective action can be taken.

During the Path to Net Zero event, Kees Hertogh, general manager for global industry product marketing at Microsoft, gave more details of the difference the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability could make to how enterprises minimise their environmental impact.

“The Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability breaks down data silos by automating data connections and calculations and applying a common data model,” he said. “It enables organisations to gain near-real-time visibility into their emissions activities, reliably report their impact and progress and provide the insight required to continuously test, refine and scale their sustainability initiatives.

“Our sustainability solutions are not only helping organisations to advance their goals, but through efficiency gains and improved margins, we help them to achieve cost savings and deliver value back to the shareholders. With data-driven insights, organisations can assess what their options are and select the strategy that is best for their budget, their business and the planet.”

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