Image: GregRubenstein2, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

A year ago, Microsoft announced it was undergoing a massive commitment to operating carbon negative by 2030. So, how’s it going?

The answer: pretty well, according to Microsoft’s newest sustainability report and at least some of the projects it’s embarked on are helping Australia cut its emissions. 

The tech giant estimates that it globally it’s cut its carbon emissions by 6 per cent in the past year — 730,000 tonnes — and is on track to meet or even exceed its goals to halve emissions by 2030. 

In Australia, it purchased five of the 26 removal projects worth 1.3 million tonnes in total.

Through US-based Regen Network, the tech giant purchased four soil organic carbon sequestration sub-projects focused on improving cattle management practices including a $500,000 carbon credit deal with Wilmot Cattle Company in New South Wales.

In this industry that’s increasingly under scrutiny for its methane emissions from cattle among and other livestock as well as for soil degradation from poor farming practices, the company has targeted better livestock management such as rotated grazing, smaller paddock size and greater stock densities. This helps transform the carbon-intensity of farming with increased ground cover, higher water-carrying capacity and increased biomass production.

In Australia, Microsoft has also been working with startup on ECHO2, a circular economy system that transforms green wastes into biochar, a process that sequesters 80 per cent of carbon emissions and is reused for agricultural purposes. 

This is a boon for the product that previously ended in landfill or was burnt, both of which release emissions.

Other carbon removal projects in the portfolio include reforestation projects in Peru, the US and India, improved forestry projects in the US and engineering solutions such as bio-oil sequestration and air capture.

Going carbon negative is just one part of Microsoft’s sustainability plan. Its other 2030 goals include reaching zero waste and water positivity intended to increase water access to 1.5 million people across seven countries. Its 2020 commitment also includes protecting more land than it uses by 2025 through ecosystem conservation.

Since its initial commitment, Microsoft has invested US$129 million into various organisations and funds dedicated to carbon reduction, water management, and developing a circular economy.

The Planetary Computer is probably the company’s most ambitious project, It’s a massive platform to house the Earth’s most critical environmental datasets. So far, the company has already compiled 10 petabytes of environmental data from large-scale satellite and ground-based radar systems.

Artificial intelligence is also on the cards. The company has teamed up with Australia’s national science agency CSRIO to further develop AI and other technologies to speed up research capabilities in smarter farming, illegal fishing prevention and plastic removal from rivers.

This is a multi-national endeavour, with other partners including SpaceX and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. 

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