Planetary Computer: Microsoft launches data-driven platform to accelerate global biodiversity efforts

Microsoft has announced the creation of a "Planetary Computer" that will give charities, business and policymakers access to scientific data on how land use, reforestation and other wildlife initiatives can improve biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation, as the company pledges to protect more land than it uses by 2025.

The Planetary Computer will combine satellite imagery with an AI platform to provide data on global ecosystems and to deliver predictive models and estimates of global carbon stocks

The Planetary Computer will combine satellite imagery with an AI platform to provide data on global ecosystems and to deliver predictive models and estimates of global carbon stocks

Tech giant Microsoft is launching a data-driven “Planetary Computer” in an effort to “aggregate environmental data from around the world” and deliver scientific advice for businesses, organisations and governments looking to deliver ecological strategies and commitments.

The platform builds on Microsoft’s AI for Earth initiative that was launched two-and-a-half years ago and is accompanied by a pledge from the firm to protect more land than it uses by 2025, with approaches such as land acquisition, conservation easement, national park creation, and community or indigenous-led conservation set to be prioritised. Microsoft is partnering with The Nature Conservancy globally and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in the US to deliver on this commitment.

“While COVID-19 has upended daily life for almost all of us since then, sustainability issues have become no less urgent or important. That’s why today we’re announcing the second step in our sustainability efforts for 2020, focusing on preserving and protecting the biodiversity and health of the world’s ecosystems,” Microsoft’s President Brad Smith said in an in-depth blog post.

“Nature and the benefits that it provides to people are the foundation of our global economy, our culture, and the overall human experience.  We depend on clean air, water, food, medicine, energy, and building materials that nature provides, but these very ecosystems are threatened or already in decline. Maintaining nature for the benefit of current and future generations is one of humanity’s greatest challenges. Deploying technology to support this global effort is one of ours.”

More businesses are focusing on biodiversity, not just for its role in sequestering carbon emissions, but also to help halt Earth’s next mass extinction.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, has found that land use currently accounts for almost one-quarter (23%) of human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Key contributors to these emissions cited in the report are deforestation, the destruction of other habitats, including carbon-sequestering peatlands, and livestock.

As such, the Planetary Computer will combine satellite imagery with an AI platform to provide data on global ecosystems and to deliver predictive models and estimates of global carbon stocks. Microsoft hopes the data will inform political and corporate decisions on land use and how that will impact climate change.

The AI for Earth platform has already been used by almost 500 conversation and ecological organisations across 81 countries. Building on that progress, the Computer will enable urban planners and farmers to access data on water availability and flood risks, combine information on species habitats and explore tree use techniques for reforestation and offsetting.

Microsoft will also invest in land cover mapping and land use optimisation through a new AI for Earth collaboration with the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network. The $1m grant will support biodiversity projects and create measurements for reporting and management of global environmental change that will inform conversation efforts.

Net-zero target

In January, Microsoft confirmed a plan to reduce its carbon impact to below net-zero by 2030, with an additional goal of removing carbon from the atmosphere that the company has emitted since it was founded in 1975.

Microsoft will reduce its emission by more than 50% across its entire business and supply chain by 2030 while investing to remove more carbon than it emits annually. Microsoft claims that this results in a carbon-negative impact as a business.

Microsoft has since achieved carbon-neutral status for its global headquarters in Puget Sound, Washington, after inking a multi-year deal to source clean energy from local hydropower facilities. The five-year power supply agreement was made between Microsoft and utility supplier Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD). Microsoft will receive hydropower directly from PUD’s three dams to heat, light and cool its campus buildings.

The tech giant has also partnered with Dutch airline KLM to develop a 'blueprint' outlining how the aviation sector can decarbonise in line with the Paris Agreement.

Matt Mace


Biodiversity | Data | ipcc | microsoft | supply chain | technology


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