Brad Smith and the climate-friendly barrel

Microsoft President backs ‘sustainable’ oil production, but warns Azure AI smarts may be restricted for oils with no environmental commitment.

On the occasion of the UK-hosted Conference of the Parties N° 26, that’s COP26 to you and me, BBC technology correspondent Mark Cheslack interviewed Brad Smith, president and vice chairman of Microsoft on BBC Radio 4. Smith reported that Microsoft is reducing its own carbon footprint. Emissions are down 6% year on year, mostly by shifting to greener energy. Cheslack started out with a softball, ‘How does Microsoft view the role of technology in the energy transformation?’ Smith opined that, ‘This is going to change our lives in many ways. Cars will change, but I think we should continue to be able to drive, to see our loved ones, and fly to see our friends. I hope that we’ll have sustainable aviation fuel for our aircraft 20 years from now. You may see some price increases and we may see some areas where we all have to give up a little.’

Cheslack then threw his medium-paced curveball, ‘What about the companies you supply .. what about the oil and gas industry? How does that fit with your corporate sustainability goals?’ This was no problem for Smith, ‘Our number one focus when it comes to working with energy companies including oil and gas companies is to identify places where we can partner with them to make them more climate-friendly. And then, really equally important is helping oil and gas companies shift their exploration and especially their extraction so that even when they are producing a barrel of oil it is a more climate-friendly barrel. It is cleaner oil, the process itself it isn’t giving off the methane that people are discussing at COP 26.’

And then came the hardball, ‘Some big operations won’t deal with those companies. Is that a stance that Microsoft might take?’ Smith acknowledged that Microsoft was ‘Not ready yet to say that we have the answer’ [to this issue] ‘Some things we sell are straight off the shelf. We provide Windows and Office products. I don’t really see us navigating to a future where we decide what we think of you before we sell you our technology. I don’t think that’s going to make for a better country or a better world. We may get to a point where we won’t partner deeply and provide certain say, AI in partnerships with companies that have no interest in improving their environmental footprint while pumping oil out of the earth.’

Listen to the Radio 4 Today program podcast here.

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