Google, Meta, and Microsoft Join Forces to Tackle Natural Carbon Removal

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Key Takeaways

  • Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Salesforce have founded an alliance to improve natural carbon removal.
  • Symbiosis hopes to scale tree restoration and other projects to help make a difference.
  • These companies are sometimes struggling to otherwise lower emissions.

Google, Meta, Microsoft, and Salesforce have formed the Symbiosis Coalition, an alliance meant to scale natural carbon removal.

The nonprofit initiative would help find and develop nature restoration projects that are certain to have a tangible effect on the climate. The early focus will be on restoring forests, planting new forests, and reviving mangroves.

Symbiosis wants to ease access to up to 20 million tons of natural carbon removal credits by 2030, making it the largest ever advance market commitment of the sort.

Crucially, the Coalition wants to set firm quality standards for the carbon removal efforts it supports. It wants “conservative” accounting, transparency, durability, ecological strength, and benefits for both the community and society at large. Ideally, Symbiosis members that buy credits will know they’re getting real results.

The group will focus the most on projects with particularly high biodiversity benefits, equitable treatment of indigenous populations, and high financial transparency.

The Coalition is aware that its contribution would only represent a “fraction” of global carbon removal goals, but maintained that its credits would be equal to California’s 2030 targets.

More members are expected in time, Google added.

Symbiosis could help companies buy carbon removal credits when they’re either worried about real-world accomplishments or don’t want to take chances on Direct Air Capture. It could also help supplement investments in renewable energy.

However, the partnership also raises concerns that it might contribute to greenwashing, or attempts to falsely portray companies as environmentally friendly. A corporation could step closer to being carbon neutral or negative simply by buying nature-based removal credits rather than reforming its practices.

Microsoft in particular has recently drawn criticism. While its direct activities and energy consumption were down 6.3% in 2023 versus 2020, its latest sustainability report revealed that indirect emissions were up a sharp 30.9% over the same timeline. Much of that was pinned on the building and computer costs for the data centers that drive its cloud and AI businesses.

The tech giant wants to become carbon negative by 2030. However, the indirect emissions increase has prompted it to take extra actions, including a requirement that some “high volume” suppliers commit to using zero-carbon electricity by 2030. Symbiosis could support Microsoft’s course correction, but changes to the data centers themselves could prove more meaningful.