Google and BCG report on Accelerating Climate Action with AI

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Google have written a report titled Accelerating Climate Action with AI that looks at how best to leverage the technology

Anyone doubting the ability of artificial intelligence (AI) to make a meaningful contribution in the fight against climate change should take note of a new report produced by Google and Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The report – Accelerating Climate Action with AI – says the technology has the potential to mitigate between 5% and 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Put into context, that is equivalent to total emissions from the European Union.

This is sure to be a hot topic at the upcoming COP28, and Google and BCG believe AI can help achieve the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) target to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030.

However, the report also acknowledges that while AI can be part of the solution, it is also part of the problem – having its own, significant, climate footprint.

The good news is, this is not some ‘AI in the sky’ wishful thinking – it is already making a difference.

Leaders believe AI can play a role in climate action, especially in helping to reduce emissions

Google says AI is already addressing climate challenges in three key areas: providing better information to make more sustainable choices; delivering improved predictions to help adapt to climate change; and finding recommendations to optimise climate action.

Examples of these three points in action include Google Maps providing fuel-efficient routing. Since launching this capability in October 2021, it is estimated to have prevented 2.4 million metric tons of CO2e emissions.

Google Research has been helping predict climate events such as floods – the most common natural disaster. The Flood Hub platform is available in 80 countries and uses AI to provide more accurate forecasts to keep 460 million people safe.

Google Research has also helped to reduce contrails – the white lines behind aircraft that account for around 35% of aviation’s global warming impact. By bringing together Big Data, pilots were able to adjust their flight paths and reduce these contrails by more than half.

Adam Elman, one of the writers of the report, and Head of Sustainability for Google Europe, Middle East, and Africa, recently gave a keynote speech at Sustainability LIVE London 2023 on Building Innovative Technology for a more Sustainable World (see video above).

AI has its own climate footprint to tackle

As mentioned, while AI is helping fight climate change, it also comes with its own issues – which need tackling as the use of the technology is only going to increase significantly.

AI uses a huge amount of computing power, which requires significant electricity. In 2022, global data centre consumption was around 1-1.3% of total demand.

Google says its data centres are built to be more efficient – on average 1.5 times as energy efficient as a typical data centre.

Cooling is also an issue in data centres and with water being the most common cooling solution, data centre operators need to act responsibly.

The report also highlights the importance of working collectively – with policymakers, government, city planners, business leaders, and individuals. 

It says policymakers have a central role harnessing the potential of AI and making it more sustainable. There are three ways this can be done:

  • Enabling AI for climate progress by encouraging data sharing, ensuring affordable technology access, building awareness, and supporting the creation and expansion of AI and climate-related upskilling programs for corporations.
  • Accelerating the deployment of AI for climate by defining public and private sector priorities, delivering on public sector use cases, and encouraging private sector action.
  • Promoting environmentally and socially responsible deployment of AI.

The report concludes that if stakeholders work collectively to harness the power of AI, it could accelerate progress on climate issues that currently seems to be sadly lacking.


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