Alphabet, Microsoft, and Salesforce have joined a carbon dioxide removal program led by First Movers, a technology coalition aiming to decarbonize industry and transport.

Cash for carbon

The three tech giants have collectively added $500 million to a new First Movers carbon dioxide removal (CDR) program, which was announced at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this week by US Presidential Envoy John Kerry and philanthropist Bill Gates. Other additions were also made to the First Movers program, which was first launched by President Biden at COP26 in Glasgow in late 2021.

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– World Economic Forum

First Movers Coalition now has more than 50 members. It aims to commercialize clean technologies using advance purchase commitments for commodities including near-zero carbon steel, aluminum, shipping, trucking, and aviation.

The members have a total market capitalization of $8.5 trillion (10 percent of the value of the Fortune 500) and have so far committed $10 billion (roughly one percent of their value).

At WEF this year, the group added carbon dioxide removal and aluminum production.

For aluminum, First Movers members are putting up money to buy low-emissions aluminum. They set the emissions target lower than is currently possible. It's then up to the aluminum industry to work out how to meet that target.

For carbon dioxide removal, companies are making commitments to buy carbon removal, either by the ton, or else putting up certain sums of money. Alphabet, Microsoft, and Salesforce between them have committed to buy $500 million of carbon removal by 2030, while Boston Consulting Group has promised to remove 100,000 tonnes of carbon by 2030. At the same time, AES, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, and Swiss Re have each committed to 50,000 tonnes or $25 million of carbon removal.

The carbon removed must be verified and members must demonstrate that it can be stored for more than 1,000 years. Supporting partners include Breakthrough Catalyst, Carbon Direct, Frontier, and South Pole.

Back in April, the Frontier Group made its own larger commitment, to buy $925 million of carbon removal. Alphabet is a member of both schemes, and it is not clear if it is making separate commitments to the two schemes. Frontier also includes Shopify, Meta, and McKinsey.

Meanwhile, President Biden has pledged $3.5 billion to carbon removal hubs, and Elon Musk is sponsoring a carbon removal Xprize.

Right now, heavy industry and transport make up 30 percent of global emissions, but that is expected to grow to 50 percent by 2050, unless the world can make progress on clean technologies

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says that, due to a lack of progress on emissions mitigation, efforts to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5⁰C will now depend on carbon removal schemes.

The technologies are needed quickly to keep to 1.5⁰C of global warming, but low-carbon technologies are currently uncompetitive, much more expensive than their carbon-intensive fossil fuel-based options currently in use, while carbon removal is also expensive and in its infancy.

"If enough global companies commit a certain percentage of their future purchasing to clean technologies in this decade, this will create a market tipping point that will accelerate their affordability and drive long-term, net-zero transformation across industrial value chains," says the First Movers press release.

Other new members of the First Movers group include Schneider Electric, National Grid, FedEx, Ford, AES, HeidelbergCement, and Swiss Re.

“The purchasing commitments made by the First Movers Coalition represent 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 – not just any company’s own footprint," said Kerry. "With today’s expansion, the coalition has achieved scale across the world’s leading companies and support from committed governments around the world to tackle the hardest challenge of the climate crisis: reducing the emissions from the sectors where we don’t yet have the toolkit to replace unabated fossil fuels and swiftly reach net-zero emissions.”

National governments are also sponsoring First Movers. Denmark, India, Italy, Japan, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have joined the US as government partners in the program, promising to promote early markets for clean technologies

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