Microsoft vows to be 'carbon negative' in 10 years and remove all historic emissions by 2050

James Titcomb
Microsoft, led by chief executive Satya Nadella, said it had been carbon neutral since 2012 but that this was not enough - REUTERS

Microsoft has said it will remove more carbon from the environment than it emits within 10 years and challenged other rich companies to do the same.

The tech company said that by 2030 it would be “carbon negative”, meaning that the $1.3 trillion (£1 trillion) giant’s activities will reduce, rather than merely offset, the carbon it puts into the atmosphere.

It added that by 2050 it plans to have removed from the environment all the carbon it has emitted since the company was founded 45 years ago.

Microsoft is a major electricity consumer due to the power-hungry data centres that run both its own services and its cloud computing division Azure, in which smaller companies rent space on computer servers to run applications. 

Amazon, Microsoft's chief rival in cloud computing, has said it will be “carbon neutral” by 2040, meaning its emissions are offset by funding reductions elsewhere. Microsoft said it had been carbon neutral since 2012, but that “neutral is not enough to address the world’s needs”.

“While it is imperative that we continue to avoid emissions, and these investments remain important, we see an acute need to begin removing carbon from the atmosphere,” its president Brad Smith said.  “While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so.”

He said Microsoft would launch a $1bn fund to invest in carbon reduction technologies, and begin to count emissions from activities such as food purchased by the company, business travel, and the products it buys. Such “scope 3” emissions are often ignored by companies claiming carbon neutrality, but account for the vast majority of Microsoft’s emissions, Mr Smith said.

Microsoft has faced internal criticism from employees for working with the oil and gas industries on cloud computing. But Mr Smith said the company will continue to do so.

“The significance and complexity of the task ahead is incredible and will require contributions from every person and organisation on the planet,” he said. “That’s why we are committed to continuing to work with all our customers, including those in the oil and gas business, to help them meet today’s business demands while innovating together to achieve the business needs of a net zero carbon future.”