Take this, sucker

Big tech wants to bootstrap carbon removal into a big business

A consortium of technology firms is ploughing nearly $1bn into a clever market mechanism

A GROUP OF rich do-gooders tried a bold experiment 15 years ago. The Gates Foundation, a charity, and five countries put $1.5bn into a pilot project aimed at encouraging research and development in a previously neglected area. The “advanced market commitment” (AMC) they created promised rewards to drugmakers that came up with an effective vaccine against pneumococcus, a disease which killed many children in poor countries. Defying sceptics, three vaccines have since been developed. More than 150m children have been immunised, saving 700,000 lives.

Now several initiatives aim to apply the same approach to a different scourge. Last month four big tech companies—Alphabet, Meta, Shopify and Stripe—and the sustainability practice of McKinsey, a management consultancy, pledged $925m over nine years to bootstrap technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an effort to arrest global warming. A similar AMC-esque project is expected to be unveiled in May at the annual plutocrat retreat in Davos hosted by the World Economic Forum (WEF). That project’s instigators in the First Movers Coalition, which was forged last November and unites the WEF, America’s State Department and dozens of big global firms, have already made purchasing commitments aimed at helping to decarbonise the aviation, shipping, trucking and steel industries.

Experts reckon the world must remove about 6bn tonnes of CO2 a year from the atmosphere by 2050 to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Less than 10,000 tonnes have so far…