Tencent pledges to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030

Business & Technology

As one of the world’s largest operators of data centers, Tencent was responsible for 5.1 million tons of carbon dioxide last year, roughly one-tenth of what the entire city of New York emitted in 2020. The company is apparently aware of the problem and is seeking multiple methods to achieve zero emissions.

Visitors stand in front of a signage of Tencent at its headquarters in Shenzhen (Oriental Image via Reuters Connect)

Gaming and social media giant Tencent has become the latest Chinese internet company to come out with bold commitments to tackle its climate impact, announcing in a statement that by 2030, “complete carbon neutrality will be realized across its operations and supply chain.”

The document (in Chinese), released on February 24 and titled “A report on Tencent’s carbon neutral targets and action roadmap,” also mentions the company’s pledge to contract green energy for all of its electricity consumption by the end of the decade. Tencent, which owns the hugely popular Chinese messaging app WeChat and some of the biggest game development studios in the world, said that emissions would be cut primarily by focusing on its massive data centers that power the servers running its services, and that it had already purchased 500 million kilowatt hours of renewables like solar and wind energy this year.

The action plan was a follow-up on an announcement made by Tencent in January 2021, in which the company, for the first time since its foundation in 1998, expressed a desire to lead the way on fighting climate change in its sector. In the past year, the Shenzhen-headquartered company reviewed the volume of greenhouse gas it produced and contemplated multiple methods to achieve zero emissions, Pony Ma (马化腾 Mǎ Huàténg), Tencent’s chairman and CEO, wrote in the introduction of the latest announcement.

On the consumer-facing side of its business, Tencent said it would help promote climate advocacy and sustainable lifestyles in Chinese society by rolling out educational mini programs on WeChat and free mobile games. To facilitate a low-carbon transformation within the industry, Tencent also promised to share its knowledge on low-carbon solutions with business partners and support development of cutting-edge technologies that protect the planet. Meanwhile, in various aspects of its operations, Tencent added that it had already adopted a suite of environment-friendly practices, including construction of green buildings and allowing some of its employees to work remotely.

As one of the world’s largest operators of data centers, Tencent was responsible for 5.1 million tons of carbon dioxide last year, roughly one-tenth of what the entire city of New York emitted in 2020, according to an internal review (in Chinese). About 54% of Tencent’s emissions stemmed from its infrastructure construction and the purchase of computer servers, whereas the rest originated mostly from operational sources like the use of electricity, heating and cooling in office buildings and data centers.

The race to net zero has increasingly become a point of positive competition for some of China’s biggest tech companies. In December 2021, for example, Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba promised to make its operations carbon neutral by 2030 and reduce 1.5 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions across its entire business ecosystem by 2035. Last year, JD Logistics, the shipping arm of Chinese online marketplace JD.com, set a goal of cutting half of its 2019 total carbon emissions level by 2030. With its new climate commitments, Tencent has become the first Chinese internet company to commit to objectives of achieving net zero emissions and 100 percent renewable energy at the same time.

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In “Clean Cloud 2021,” a research report released by Greenpeace that tracks renewable energy use in China’s tech industry, the environmental organization found that as of April 2021, 13 of China’s 22 biggest tech companies had begun to actively procure renewable energy, compared with just eight companies in 2019. It ranked Tencent as the best-performing Chinese cloud service provider in terms of renewable energy usage, while blasting Alibaba for its poor transparency record and lack of carbon neutrality commitment.

The incentives for Chinese tech companies to do something about their climate footprint come both from a growing sense of environmental responsibilities within the management and the pressure exerted by China’s leadership. Despite being the world’s largest carbon emitter at the moment, China has made commitments to climate change and set ambitious targets to reach carbon neutrality by 2060.