Tech companies just made a bold climate commitment

A Big Tech coalition including Microsoft, Alphabet and Salesforce has said it’ll buy everything from green steel to carbon dioxide removal in an attempt to clean up the climate.


The coalition aims to create markets for decarbonization technologies.

DAVOS, Switzerland — Davos is living up to its name as a place for movers and shakers. On Wednesday, a group known as the First Movers Coalition announced major climate commitments intended to create markets for everything from green steel and aluminum to carbon dioxide removal.

Microsoft, Alphabet and Salesforce are among the heavy hitters in tech at the forefront of the coalition that includes more than 50 companies with a total market cap of $8.5 trillion. That’s a large chunk of the U.S. stock market, and the pledge means those companies will start procuring climate-friendly products that are more expensive than their standard counterparts as well as services that don’t really exist at scale (yet). The companies’ commitments could give industries that we know we need to grow down the road the confidence that demand will be there.

The coalition launched last year at United Nations climate talks as an initiative spearheaded by Climate Envoy John Kerry and Bill Gates. The focus then was mostly on steel, shipping and aviation, all sectors of the economy that are incredibly hard and costly to decarbonize. Wednesday’s announcement threw CDR — Silicon Valley’s favorite climate solution — into the mix, along with green aluminum.

"Today is a great milestone in a very difficult long-term project," Bill Gates said.

Indeed, the trio of major tech companies collectively committed $500 million to CDR between now and 2030. Alphabet joined a handful of other tech companies in pledging $925 million to purchase CDR services last month. It didn't respond to Protocol's request about if its First Movers Coalition money was the same as its commitment to Frontier, but Bloomberg confirmed the $200 million is the same money. Microsoft has also made its own investments in removing carbon from the atmosphere while Salesforce founder Marc Benioff has invested in companies that do so.

Right now, a handful of startups are removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using techniques ranging from protecting forests to growing kelp to relying on machines to do the dirty work. Paying those companies to do that is currently pretty pricey, costing hundreds of dollars per ton. That adds up fast when you’re talking about a company that pumps millions of tons of carbon dioxide per year into the atmosphere when factoring in Scope 3 emissions.

Obviously Alphabet, Salesforce and Microsoft are good for it, though, and their early investments could help bring prices down by signaling there’s going to be a market for CDRl. At numerous events at the World Economic Forum this week, Kerry echoed a phrase coined by Gates called the “green premium,” which refers to the idea of paying extra for the more climate-friendly option. For companies, that can refer to paying a bit of extra cash for green steel or CDR. (Though to be clear, there’s no alternative to the latter outside cutting emissions.)

“No government has the money to be able to solve this problem by itself,” Kerry said. “No government can move fast enough to solve this problem by itself. We need you. We need the private sector around the world to step up.”

While that first point is a bit up for debate given that the federal budget for the military alone is north of $700 billion per year, it’s clear that procurement is a huge avenue for both corporations and the government to spur new markets and bring down costs of the technology we need to address the climate crisis. The Biden administration itself has pulled on some of those levers, notably with a plan to purchase only electric vehicles by 2035. With 645,000 vehicles, that would help drive costs down for batteries, charging and other parts of the EV equation.

The government is also investing billions in direct air capture R&D, which could bring down costs. But tech companies’ commitment to buying those services offer another avenue to do that. Right now, most tech can remove maybe a few thousands of tons from the atmosphere a year. To keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a key guardrail, the world will need to pull multiple billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the sky each year in the coming decades. Exactly how much will depend on how fast we deploy renewables, EVs and other climate solutions we already have at the ready.

Kerry noted that the government partners in the First Movers Coalition are also working to create more regulatory certainty and policies that can speed the adoption of new, cleaner technologies. Tax credits and even more R&D investments are some of the avenues that could open the door to reimagining polluting industries and creating new sectors of the economy to clean up the carbon pollution already in the atmosphere.

The new commitment from the First Movers Coalition will give CDR companies a little more certainty that the market will develop for their services. That, in addition to commitments for green steel and aluminum as well as other products, is, in Kerry’s words, the “highest-leverage climate action that companies can take, because creating the early markets to scale advanced technologies materially reduces the whole world’s emissions.”


Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep ReadingShow less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep ReadingShow less
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep ReadingShow less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories