Ambition is good; action is better: Making progress on our climate commitments

Iceberg with melted snow

The dialogue at this year’s United Nation’s Climate Summit has a refreshing air of sober reality. The urgency of the climate crisis has by now fully been absorbed, and the conversation has turned to the practical matter of what needs to be done to mitigate the worst impacts of a rapidly changing climate and adapt to that which we cannot avoid.

This means that the time of raised ambitions and grand announcements without clear action plans is also past. That is why we are focusing this week on new and specific contributions both inside and outside our four walls that have the potential to meaningfully impact environmental outcomes. We have been doing this work for more than a decade and, in April of this year, we doubled down on our ambitions with a clear focus on doing more where it makes the most difference — beyond operational changes and increasingly on how we put technology to work for the planet. With that in mind, I’m sharing several concrete developments and markers of progress, including:

  • Aligning our operations with a 1.5C climate scenario: It’s clear, given the science, that targets should be even more ambitious than the Paris Accord targets, which mapped to a 2 degree rise. Today, we’re pleased to say that our renewable energy target has been certified by the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) as aligned to a 1.5-degree Celsius future. The certification is meaningful for two reasons — first, we believe that actions should be driven by the best available science, and SBTi uses that as a core criteria for approval and second, because what is most important is not just setting targets — it’s meeting them. Science-based targets offer important measurement and accountability that is critical to assess if we’re making the progress the world needs, in the time frame we have available.
  • Extending carbon reduction work into our supply chain: Today, we’re setting a target reduction for our value and supply chain via our new SBTi-certified target, which will see us cut these emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030. Our supply chain, referred to in carbon accounting as Scope 3 emissions as indirect carbon emissions associated with anything from manufacturing to customer use of devices to employee airline travel, are far larger than our operational footprint. This is true for many companies and nearly all technology companies. We have already worked to drive transparency in this space, with more than 105 of our top suppliers reporting through the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), and will look to continue to do more in this space in the coming year.
  • Going from carbon neutral operations to carbon neutral products: Microsoft’s business operations have operated carbon neutral since 2012. Today we are beginning the journey of extending that to our products and devices with a pilot to make 825,000 Xbox consoles carbon neutral. These are the first gaming consoles to be carbon neutral. While just a pilot, we’re already looking at what we can do to further reduce and neutralize carbon across devices in the future.
  • Putting technology in the hands of others for the good of the planet: The investments we’ve made to make our devices and datacenters and supply chain greener are good for the planet but have exponential impact when the world is using these greener computing resources to power new AI breakthroughs for the planet. That’s why we’re continuing to expand our AI for Earth program with new grant partners like Conservation X Labs, National Geographic Society and World Resources Institute. We now have more than 430 grantees in 71 countries and just released our first APIs and code repositories on our website and GitHub. The newest members of AI for Earth include the young leaders who participated in the Youth Summit’s Summer of Solutions.

It’s important to note that while we’ve made progress on several fronts, there is still much work to do within Microsoft to embed sustainability more deeply across the company and into all that we do. We are committed to doing this work and being transparent about our journey. And we’ll continue to work with external organizations like the Science Based Target Initiative and CDP, which have done so much to drive concrete, measurable change to hold us accountable and aligned to the best science.

This summit comes at a pivotal moment in time. I’m encouraged by the passion and participation I’ve seen already at the Youth Summit and new corporate announcements as well. It’s a welcome antidote to the fatalistic worldview that is all too easy to adopt when it comes to the future of the planet.

We must also not give in too easily to optimism unless it’s paired with real action. The road ahead will be challenging, and progress will certainly require everyone to do more. We’re committed to doing our part. Microsoft sees a responsibility and opportunity as a leading cloud and AI provider to play a major role in deploying solutions, applying capital and market power and reducing our sizable environmental footprint.

But progress is indeed possible. That’s not a naïve hope but one based on evidence: technology breakthroughs over the past few years, new work underway across our business, and a growing appetite from customers to digitally transform their businesses with sustainability in mind. We’re celebrating today in New York, and tomorrow we get back to work. I hope you’ll join us.

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