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Microsoft cuts carbon emissions 6% in fight against climate change

And you now can use Minecraft to learn about sustainability.

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Climate change has warmed global temperatures. This NASA map shows the difference between 1979 and 2019.

Climate change has warmed global temperatures. This NASA map shows the difference between 1979 and 2019.

NASA

Microsoft cut carbon emissions 6% in its first year of trying to reverse the effect it's had on the global climate over the company's decades of existence. Though that might sound like progress, the software giant said its approach so far won't fix the broader problem of climate change.

"Nearly all the carbon removal solutions we are purchasing are short-term and nature-based," Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a blog post Thursday. "If we look at this work through our moonshot analogy, this is not the rocket that will take us to the moon. The world needs to invent substantially stronger technology-based solutions than are available today." 

Climate change, driven largely by carbon dioxide emissions from human activities like energy generation, transportation, industrial processes and agriculture, is causing problems like extreme weather events, drought, floods, forest fires and sea level rise. Microsoft's effort to reverse its carbon effect is one among many in the tech industry and, under US President Joe Biden's new administration, combating climate change is a top priority.

Microsoft described its efforts in a new sustainability report and pledged more transparency, including details on the carbon capture projects it's invested in. But it went a step beyond the usual glossy publication, this time also releasing a Minecraft Sustainable City map to try to show some environmental improvements through the open-ended virtual world video game.

Minecraft sustainability map

Microsoft's Mojang Studios, developer of the Minecraft game, released a new map to teach kids about sustainability choices.

Microsoft/Mojang

The Minecraft city map includes six lessons on subjects like sustainable food and building materials, alternative energy sources and waste handling. It's part of Microsoft's effort to capitalize on Minecraft's popularity as an educational tool.

Nature-based efforts to fight climate change often include projects like paying people to plant trees that pull carbon dioxide from the air -- or sometimes just paying people not to cut forests down.

"But paying someone not to emit carbon is literally paying someone to do nothing. And we know we won't solve the climate crisis by doing nothing," Smith said. That's why Microsoft is also investing $1 billion in its Climate Innovation Fund to take actions including funding technology projects to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere -- a daunting technology challenge at large scale, since doing so requires lots of energy.

Through its carbon removal efforts over the last year, Microsoft paid others to remove 1.3 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

A big part of Microsoft's plan to reverse its carbon effects by 2030 is reducing the carbon emissions from its own operations and from the operations of its suppliers and partners. There, it cut emissions by 760,000 metric tons over the last year, a 6% reduction, to 10.9 million metric tons, Smith said.