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Microsoft President Brad Smith. Photo: Rita Franca/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Microsoft is unveiling plans for a new digital platform for environmental data and committing to conserve more land than it operates on in the next five years. 

The big picture: The pursuits, a follow-up to the tech giant’s big climate change goal earlier this year, is one of the first major corporate announcements on environmental issues since the coronavirus pandemic erupted, causing many such initiatives to be put on hold.

What they're saying: “There’s never been a more important time to be keeping our foot on the accelerator of our sustainability work and not taking it off,” Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s chief sustainability officer, told Axios Tuesday, adding that the company hadn’t delayed the announcement.

  • Joppa was referring to the general connection between wildlife and ecosystems — the coronavirus likely came from a live wildlife market in China — and humanity.

Driving the news: That point was also mentioned in a blog post by President Brad Smith Wednesday. The announcement includes two main parts:

  1. The tech giant will conserve more than the 11,000 acres it operates on globally — about three-quarters the size of Manhattan — within five years.
  2. It also unveiled plans to create a new cloud-based platform, called Planetary Computer, which will be connected with Microsoft’s AI for Earth program announced 2.5 years ago. Users will be able to more quickly aggregate and assess environmental data, like the quality of forests and wildlife. Greenhouse gas emission data isn’t in the specific plan as of yet, but Joppa says it could be in the future.

One level deeper: “It should be as easy for anyone in the world to search the state of the planet as it is to search the Internet for driving directions or dining options,” Smith said in the blog post about the platform.

What we don’t know: A few important things… 

  • The exact timing of when the platform will launch. A spokeswoman says the first datasets will be available to users of Microsoft's cloud-computing service Azure later this year.
  • To what extent people will pay to use the platform.
  • Microsoft also isn't disclosing how much money it's committing to this announcement, including both its efforts to conserve land and build out the new platform.

Between the lines: Joppa says a common theme running through this move, the company’s earlier climate announcement, and forthcoming initiatives on waste and water, is the digitization of the energy and environmental sectors in ways that already exist in other parts of our lives.

  • That will, of course, help the bottom line of a tech giant like Microsoft. 
  • “Yeah, but for Microsoft to do well, the world needs to do well,” Joppa said.

The other side: Microsoft, along with other tech companies, has faced criticism from activists for continuing deals with oil and gas companies even while ramping up aggressive action on climate change.

What's next: Expect more focus on environmental issues leading up to and on April 22, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Go deeper: Microsoft vows to become carbon-negative by 2030

Go deeper

Former Georgetown tennis coach pleads guilty to accepting admissions bribes

Gordon Ernst (left) former head tennis coach at Georgetown, is pictured outside the John Joseph Moakley United State Courthouse in Boston on March 25, 2019. Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A former Georgetown University head tennis coach has pleaded guilty Tuesday to bribery charges related to facilitating the admission of prospective applicants.

Why it matters: Gordon Ernst solicited and accepted bribes from William Singer, ringleader of the cheating scheme uncovered by Operation Varsity Blues, and families in exchange for helping prospective applicants get into Georgetown as student athletes, according to the Justice Department.

3 hours ago - Health

CDC says some immunocompromised people can get fourth COVID shot

Photo: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in updated guidelines Tuesday that some immunocompromised people who have received either Pfizer or Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines will be able to get a fourth shot.

Details: People over 18 who are "moderately to severely immunocompromised" and have received three doses of an mRNA vaccine may get a fourth shot (of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines) at least six months after getting their third Pfizer or Moderna dose, per the CDC.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden plan expected to include at least $500B for climate

Photo: Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House is privately telling lawmakers the climate portion of President Biden's roughly $2 trillion social spending plan is "mostly settled" and will likely cost more than $500 billion, two sources familiar with the talks tell Axios.

Why it matters: A price tag of $500 billion to $555 billion is a huge number and, if it holds, would likely be the single biggest component of the sweeping package. It also isn't far off from the roughly $600 billion proposed when the bill was expected to cost $3.5 trillion.