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Video game companies pledge to fight climate change at the UN. Is it enough?

Some of the world’s biggest gaming companies have come together at the United Nations to promise to fight climate change and take on green gaming initiatives.

Among the companies making the pledge are PlayStation’s Sony, Xbox and Minecraft’s Microsoft, Angry Birds maker Rovio, Google, and Twitch. Gaming’s carbon footprint is only set to grow over the coming years, especially as there’s a push toward cloud gaming.

“I believe games and gamers can be a force for social change, and would love to see our global community unite to help our planet to survive and thrive,” Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan said at the United Nations General Assembly as the organization held a climate summit on Monday, according to USA Today

Sony plans to offer the PlayStation 5 with a low-power mode that could save enough energy to power 1,000 American homes if it’s used by at least a million gamers, Ryan said.

With an estimated 2 billion people worldwide who regularly play video games, the companies believe they’ve got a captive audience for green initiatives that can actually make a difference in the fight against climate — that’s why they’re taking the “Playing for the Planet” pledge.

The plan to fight climate change

Along with Sony, other companies have taken the pledge and will work on green initiatives to lower their overall carbon footprint or promote messages of sustainability.

Microsoft said it planned to make 825,000 carbon-neutral Xbox consoles and to use Minecraft as a platform to promote real-life sustainability initiatives.

Google’s Stadia will pay for research on how to inspire people to embrace greener behavior through games. Ubisoft plans to incorporate “green themes” into its games and to source materials from eco-friendly factories, the company said.

Rovio said it is offsetting carbon emissions generated by its players charging their phones for an entire year, while Amazon’s Twitch plans to use its popular streaming channels to spread messages about sustainability.

Wildworks, the company behind popular kids game Animal Jam, plans to promote information about reforestation in the game and will plant a tree for every new player who joins it.

Is this enough?

While a step in the right direction, all of these moves are relatively small ones for a multibillion-dollar industry. Alongside the actual manufacturing that goes into making consoles and their parts — which have a huge carbon footprint — there’s also data centers that host cloud services, which are a huge driver of carbon emissions.

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory set up a special gaming lab to measure how much energy gamers consume and found that, globally, PC gamers use about 75 billion kilowatt hours each years — about as much as 25 electric power plants. That doesn’t include consoles and is only predicted to increase. We’ve reached out to several of the largest gaming companies, along with the United Nations, to see how they plan to face that challenge and will update this story when we hear back.

One study found that cloud gaming — largely seen as the future of the industry — could increase energy consumption by about 300 percent. While companies like Google have committed to using more renewable energy, it’s not clear whether that would cover such a massive surge in demand, or if they’d have to use more climate-unfriendly forms of power.

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