Social media giant Facebook has committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 in all its operations, including data centres that are intensive consumers of energy.
"Facebook's global operations will achieve net-zero carbon emissions and be 100 per cent supported by renewable energy. We are also setting an ambitious goal to reach net-zero emissions for our value chain in 2030," its director of sustainability Edward Palmieri said – the European Green Deal has 2050 as a target for carbon neutrality.
The announcement has major implications for operations in Ireland, where its European headquarters and a data centre in Clonee, Co Meath, which supports its 1.6 billion users, including those on Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, are located.
Demand for electricity in Ireland is predicted to increase by up to 50 per cent over the next decade, according to recent analysis by the grid operator Eirgrid. By 2028, data centres and other large users could account for about 27 per cent of all electricity demand here.
Facebook confirmed, however, it will source much of its own renewable power. It recently commissioned 29 megawatts of renewable energy to service its Irish operations and data centre.
Over the next decade, Palmieri said Facebook would work to reduce emissions through efficient designs, supplier engagement and carbon-removal technology including nature-based solutions.
It was on track to achieve a 75 per cent absolute reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by end of 2020, he said. Its actions for the coming decade would be aligned to the Paris Agreement aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
“We believe that the next 10 years will be the defining decade in the world’s efforts to dramatically reduce GHG emissions, limit global warming, and mitigate the impact of climate change. That is why we’re once again setting aggressive, science-based targets for our own business,” Mr Palmieri said.
On being asked how its climate commitments could be reconciled with thousands of climate denial webpages on its site, he accepted there was climate misinformation on its platform “and it’s viral”.
Facebook was expanding capacity to fact check as quickly as possible, and pairing this with the voices of real climate science. That was why its climate science information centre was being launched and linked to 200 leading climate organisations and experts.
Mr Palmieri confirmed Covid-19 coincided a big reduction in Facebook’s carbon footprint. It believed it could continue to achieve carbon efficiency with people working at home post-Covid while reducing the impact from those who return to work. When business travel resumes, it would drive education with employees and customers on reducing its carbon impact and work on reducing it through use of technology to connect.
Meanwhile Google, which employs 7,000 people in Ireland, said on Monday it aims to power its data centres and offices solely with carbon-free electricity by 2030.
The "stretch goal," as chief executive Sundar Pichai described it, will force Google to move beyond the tech industry norm of offsetting carbon emissions from electricity use and require technological and political breakthroughs to achieve it.
“The problem is so immense, many of us need to lead the way and show solutions,” Mr Pichai said. It is the biggest company in the world to commit to ditching coal and natural gas power, he claimed.
Wind, solar and other renewable sources accounted for 61 per cent of Google’s global hourly electricity usage last year. It has been carbon-neutral since 2007, meaning it has planted trees, bought carbon credits and funded large amounts of wind power in places where it is abundant to offset use of coal and natural gas power elsewhere.
“Not long ago, it was hard to imagine a 24/7 carbon-free electricity supply-at a simple level, the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t shine at night. But thanks to trends in technology, and with the right government policies, the promise of 24/7 clean energy will soon be within reach,” Mr Pichai said.