PwC & Microsoft use AI to Help Clients Transform to Net Zero

PwC & Microsoft have researched the economic impact of using AI to manage agriculture, water, energy & transport to support development of AI for net zero

We are already seeing the emergence of AI in a wide range of industries to support the management of environmental impact: AI-infused clean distributed energy grids, precision agriculture, sustainable supply chains, environmental monitoring and enforcement, and enhanced weather and disaster prediction and response, to name a few.

Now PwC UK and Microsoft have teamed up to research the economic impact of using AI to manage the environment. 

Lynne Baber, PwC UK Partner, Sustainability Leader.

“Customers, investors, employees and society as a whole expect more from organisations today. Sustainability is not a box ticking exercise, but a whole new mindset which needs to be woven into an organisation’s DNA,” says Lynne Baber, PwC UK Partner, Sustainability Leader.

“Spanning strategy through to reporting and the value creation beyond, we help clients gain clarity and confidence in navigating ESG’s complexities. We combine decades of experience and expertise with our power to convene the right people, helping organisations plan the transition and transform.”

The report aims to explore how AI can positively impact PwC’s clients and partners and focuses on agriculture, water, energy and transport.

The findings suggest that use of AI as an environmental management tool could be impactful in a multitude of ways:

  • Using AI for environmental applications could contribute up to US$5.2tn to the global economy in 2030, a 4.4% increase relative to business as usual
  • Application of AI levers could reduce worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 4% in 2030, an amount equivalent to 2.4 Gt CO2e – the 2030 annual emissions of Australia, Canada and Japan combined
  • AI could create 38.2 million net new jobs across the global economy, offering more skilled occupations as part of this transition.

Overcoming the challenges of AI

Despite its incredibly fast rise to prolific use, AI is still a relatively young technology. The many challenges related to governance, resources for R&D and deployment, collaboration and the maturity of data and infrastructure have been split into four key categories:

  • People: Lack of awareness, engagement and prioritisation, and changing labour demands 
  • Process: Complexities around areas including innovation, governance, cost, responsibility, accountability and bias
  • Technology: Democratised AI and unequal scaling of infrastructure
  • Data: Ensuring fit-for-purpose and quality data.

“Today as we sit at the intersection of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) age and the Anthropocene age, not enough has been done yet to bring these two worlds together,” say report leads Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer at Microsoft and Celine Herweijer, Global Innovation & Sustainability Leader, Partner at PwC UK. 

What is the Anthropocene age?
  • PwC defines it as the time where human activity is the dominant influence on our environment and our natural systems are changing at unprecedented rates, from climate change to biodiversity loss, ocean warming and acidification, deforestation, and water and air pollution.

Whilst the report highlights the possibilities of AI as a tool in environmental management, it also acknowledges that there are challenges and necessary steps to overcome if the best reality is to be achieved.

“The pace of change is fast,” the report says.

“With digitisation, automation and augmentation already transforming sectors, markets and global value chains, it is critical that companies and countries think ahead about both the markets and the workforce of the future.

“Ultimately, AI will only reach its full potential for society and the planet, if each stakeholder group participates with a shared responsibility to shape the future of AI and of the future systems and business models it underpins.”

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