Green commitments from big business?

Green commitments from big business?
Microsoft has pledged to speak up for the protection of public land and water in the US

The first four months of 2020 have seen a rise in notable commitments from big businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in some cases stem biodiversity loss.

Amazon announced their $100 million Right Now Climate Fund in 2019, which aims to restore and conserve forests, wetlands and peatlands for carbon storage. The fund’s first investment has just been declared: $10 million to restore and conserve forests in the northeastern US, through provision of carbon payments to landowners. This forms part of the company’s pledge for carbon neutrality by 2040, and is in addition to the $10 billion which the company’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, pledged to the Jeff Bezos Earth Fund. To help put these figures into perspective, the UK government’s most recent budget committed £10 million ($12.4 million) annually to UK Oversees Territories wildlife conservation , and £5.2 billion ($6.45 billion) over 6 years to flood defense.

Microsoft has released a new biodiversity initiative, aiming to protect more land than it uses by 2025, through land acquisition, national park creation and community or indigenous-led conservation. The company has also announced plans for a ‘Planetary Computer’ which will centralise environmental data, with the aim of enhancing environmental science and decision making; this will bring data on e.g. tree density, land use, forest size, flood risks, water availability, and animal & plant populations together into one accessible system, and give users access to machine learning tools.

Microsoft has also stated that they will speak out on four key public policy issues: National Ecosystem Assessments, infrastructure to accelerate measuring and monitoring of ecosystems, public land and water conservation in the US, and public-private partnerships for combating the biodiversity crisis. The biodiversity initiative follows the carbon initiative which was announced in January 2020, as part of which Microsoft pledged to be carbon negative by 2030.

Meanwhile, Shell has announced that it will achieve net-zero emissions from product manufacture by 2050, 65% by emission reduction, and 35% by offsetting. However, they have not yet addressed their largest emissions source – customers burning the fuel they supply; they claim that these will be addressed by 2050. The commitments receive scrutiny by The Telegraph, and we must note that Shell is has recently announced an investment of $6.4 billion in expanding Australian natural gas production.

Whilst we welcome the apparent shift towards environmental thinking in big business, and it is reassuring to see that the importance of biodiversity is increasingly being recognised, we must scrutinize these commitments and put them in the broader context of each company’s activities. The commitments will vary in their authenticity and effectiveness, and due to lack of transparency it is often difficult to judge the true impact of a pledge. The scientific community must work to ensure that any efforts made to reduce environmental impact are made as effective as possible. Moreover, we must demand more dramatic changes in order to address the full scale of the climate and biodiversity crises, including significant shifts towards a circular economy and just, environmental management at every stage of supply chains.