Climate change is an urgent global crisis, and mitigating its impacts has become a core priority for scientists, engineers, and researchers worldwide. One principal tool that’s increasingly being recognised for its potential in this fight is artificial intelligence (AI). However, like every technology, AI has its strengths and weaknesses, and its application in combating climate change is no exception. Let’s explore how AI can be used in this critical endeavour, and the challenges that come with it.
The Power of AI in Climate Change Mitigation
Artificial intelligence can be a powerful agent in the battle against climate change, offering solutions that can help us understand, predict, and adapt to our changing environment.
Harnessing AI for Data Analysis
Climate data sets are vast and time-consuming to collect and analyse. AI can expediently process these data sets, helping us make more informed decisions and enact effective climate policies. For instance, Jim Bellingham of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy points out that AI can factor in the ever-evolving aspects of climate change and make more accurate environmental predictions. This can enable us to implement mitigation efforts more promptly.
“Using AI to factor in elements of climate change that are constantly evolving helps us make more informed predictions about changes in the environment, so that we can deploy mitigation efforts earlier.” – James Bellingham
Emission Reduction with AI
AI can also play a significant role in decreasing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. It can optimise the entire process of transitioning from a carbon-based economy to a net carbon zero economy. For instance, AI can assist in the design and creation of lightweight, strong, and weather-resistant materials for building more efficient wind turbines.
AI can also facilitate energy-efficient solutions when combined with other trends such as the electrification of transportation, additive manufacturing, transformations in agriculture, and smart electrical grids.
AI for Climate Adaptation and Resilience
AI can help us adapt to the impacts of climate change by improving our ability to predict extreme weather events and providing decision-support tools for effective response. AI can also play a critical role in increasing our resilience to the effects of climate change by helping us identify risk factors and develop plans to mitigate them.
The Challenges of Using AI in Climate Change Mitigation
Despite its potential, the application of AI in addressing climate change is not without its challenges.
Understanding the Complexities of Ecosystems
One of the primary challenges is understanding the complexities of our ecosystem, particularly our oceans. The oceans play a crucial role in transferring and absorbing heat, and we still lack a complete understanding of how they respond to various environmental changes and how climate change is impacting them. The deployment and maintenance of the required number of ships for oceanic observation and data collection can be prohibitively expensive. AI can help overcome this limitation by improving the autonomous capabilities of robots used for these purposes.
The Energy Demand of AI
AI relies on computers, which in turn rely on electrical power. This raises sustainability concerns as the AI’s demand for computation is fuelling an explosion of investment in computational power, thereby increasing energy consumption and potentially adding to carbon emissions.
The Need for Trust in AI Models
Another challenge is establishing trust in AI models. For these models to be utilised effectively in decision-making, people must trust them. This trust or assurance is a key aspect of using AI in climate change mitigation.
The Role of AI in the Future of Climate Change Mitigation
In the next five to ten years, AI is expected to make a significant impact on the fight against climate change. As trust in the technology increases, we will be able to rely on it more heavily to understand climate change and make more accurate predictions and models. This will enable us to better strategize to mitigate its worst effects.
Nevertheless, it is essential to remember that AI is not a panacea for climate change, but a tool that can help us build a more resilient future.
A Framework for Using AI to Combat Climate Change
As AI begins to reshape how we approach climate change, a new framework is being developed to guide its application. This framework, devised by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), focuses on three main themes: mitigation, adaptability and resilience, and fundamentals. It underscores the need for a proactive approach to adaptation, anticipating the potential impacts of climate change and taking steps to mitigate them before they occur.
Mitigation with AI
The mitigation aspect of the framework involves measuring environmental emissions at both the macro and micro levels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions intensity and greenhouse effects, and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Macro-level measurement involves improving measures for overall environmental emissions, which are crucial for future climate projection models. Micro-level measurement, on the other hand, allows producers to understand the carbon footprints of their products and track their progress towards environmental, social, and governance (#esg) targets.
The reduction component of the framework encompasses three aspects:
1. Reduction of GHG emissions intensity:AI can support the transition towards new energy sources. For instance, supply forecasting for solar energy can identify potential areas for increasing solar energy use.
2. Reducing Emissions-Generating Activities:AI can optimise supply chains, reducing emissions through improved demand prediction and efficient transportation of goods.
3. Reduction of greenhouse effects:AI can accelerate chemistry research and help develop new materials and processes that result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is another way to mitigate climate change. This can be done either through environmental removal, which involves natural processes such as increased photosynthesis by trees, or through technological removal, such as carbon capture and storage.
Adaptation and Resilience with AI
Adaptation and resilience are necessary for ensuring that communities and economies can withstand the effects of climate change. AI can play a significant role in this by helping to predict localised long-term trends and building early warning systems. Furthermore, AI can assist in managing crises, strengthening infrastructure, protecting populations, and preserving biodiversity.
AI in Action: Climate-tech Innovations
Several innovative climate-tech solutions are already leveraging AI to progress in all three themes of the Adaptability and Resilience framework. Here are some examples:
- Blue Sky Analytics: A climate-tech company that specialises in converting satellite data into environmental intelligence.
- One Concern: A company that uses AI to estimate damage from natural phenomena.
- Cloud to Street: A company that uses satellites and AI to track floods in near real-time anywhere on earth.
- Prospera Technologies: A company that develops machine vision technologies to monitor and analyse plant development, health, and stress.
- EXCI: A bushfire detection technology company that uses AI models to fuse data from satellites and ground-based sensors.
- Kuzi: A Kenyan company that uses artificial intelligence to predict the breeding, occurrence, and migration routes of desert locusts across the Horn of Africa and Eastern African countries.
Embracing Sustainable Technology Choices for AI
As data volumes grow and high performance becomes a requirement for AI, sustainability concerns become more prominent. With soaring energy prices, this is not only an environmental issue but an operational and financial challenge for businesses.
One potential solution is to shift towards more efficient technology choices, such as all-flash storage solutions, which are considerably more efficient than their spinning disk (HDD) counterparts. Furthermore, flash storage is much better suited to running AI projects as it ensures data is readily accessible across silos and applications, an aspect that’s crucial for successful AI implementation.
To ensure sustainable AI practices, it is also advisable for organisations to have a sustainability officer who is responsible for the company’s overall carbon footprint. Involving these stakeholders at the beginning of the process can ensure a comprehensive approach to sustainable AI.
A Call for Action: The AI for the Planet Alliance
The AI for the Planet Alliance is launching a call for solutions to provide visibility, networks and business support for climate-AI solutions worldwide. The alliance, created by Startup Inside and supported by partners such as Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the United nations Development program (UNDP), aims to promote innovation in applying advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to climate challenges, identify and champion promising solutions, ensure impact at scale, and facilitate the development of networks between project teams, investors, and experts in the field.
AI is a game-changing tool that has the potential to accelerate humanity’s efforts against climate change. It is already helping us understand and adapt to our changing environment, offering solutions that were previously unimaginable. However, as we continue to harness the power of AI, we must also address its challenges, particularly its energy consumption and the need for trust in AI models. By promoting sustainable technology choices, improving regulations, and nurturing collaboration through initiatives like the AI for the Planet Alliance, we can leverage AI to build a more resilient future for us all.