How Artificial Intelligence Might Bring Us Climate Hope
Written by Diana Aukby
Typhoon Doksuri ravaging China and blistering temperatures in Southern Europe as wildfires rage in Greece, Canada and the Swiss Alps. In an era of escalating environmental concern, the battle against climate change has become an unavoidable responsibility for humanity. According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and the World Meteorological Organization, the month of July of the summer of 2023 has not only recorded the hottest global temperatures in the short period, but it may be the warmest the planet has ever been in the past 120,000 years. Thus, we might find ourselves in the most desperate of times in finding a novel and effective solution to mitigate these alarming trends. Within this context, artificial intelligence emerges as a compelling ally.
The Paris Accord, which includes 193 states including the European Union and the United States, has set out to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming below the 2.0°C above pre-industrial levels. This goal requires innovative and time efficient solutions to combat the environmental impacts across all sectors. In this context, Artificial Intelligence offers a variety of strategies to help combat climate change and mitigate its implications.
Artificial intelligence utilizes data collection in understanding uncertainties and improving climate models. In order to properly and ethically apply Artificial Intelligence in our society and policy making, it is important to analyze and understand its capabilities.
- Predictive Modeling.
AI can be used to create complex predictive models of climate change, improving our understanding of its possible trajectories and effects. These models can help in formulating policies, adapting strategies, and making accurate predictions about weather patterns, temperature changes, sea level rises etc.
2. Energy Optimization.
AI can optimize the use of energy in industries and homes by automating processes and minimizing wastage. For instance, it can manage grids to distribute energy based on demand and supply, promote efficient energy use, and optimize the operation of renewable energy sources.
AI can also play a key role in carbon capture and storage technologies. By optimizing these technologies, AI can make them more effective and economical. This can significantly reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, one of the main contributors to global warming.
4. Climate Resilience.
AI can enhance climate resilience by predicting and adapting to changes in climate. This includes everything from early warning systems for extreme weather events to optimizing agricultural practices for changing weather patterns.
5. Sustainable Supply Chains.
AI can help create more sustainable supply chains by optimizing routes, improving logistics, and monitoring environmental impact, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
6. Biodiversity Protection.
AI can assist in monitoring and protecting biodiversity by predicting changes in ecosystems, identifying species at risk of extinction, and monitoring deforestation.
7. Policy and Decision-making Support.
AI can support policy-makers by providing clear, evidence-based strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation. This includes the generation of scenarios, impact assessment, cost-benefit analysis, and policy optimization.
However, as remarkable as this sounds, Artificial Intelligence appears to be a double-edged sword. As mentioned before, AI requires energy-intensive computers and rare critical minerals for manufacturing, which in itself has a significant environmental impact. A study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that the language training of a large algorithm can result in the emission of as much as 284,000 kg of carbon dioxide. According to the Swedish researcher Anders Andrae, AI could account for 10% of the total electricity use by 2050.
This unfolds another key drawback in the international stage: Exacerbating the already existing digital inequality. For underdeveloped and developing countries the transition to and adaptation of this digital approach in mitigating environmental issues could be too costly and data-driven climate change technologies would, once again, be overly dominated by the developed countries. A study in 2019 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows that at least 50% of the population in the Least Developed Countries (LDC) lack access to electricity, particularly in rural areas. Considering the population growth and the electrification rate, it would take up to 50 years to achieve sustainable energy access and development in the Global South. In order to address and counter these technical inequalities, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has announced a programme to improve the development and transfer of climate technologies to and the collaboration with developing countries.
In conclusion, artificial intelligence seems very promising in predicting climate change and driving targeted mitigation strategies, making it an indispensable asset in our climate battle. However, certain challenges such as understanding complex ecosystems, managing autonomous robots and limiting AI’s growing carbon footprint still pertain. By addressing these issues, we will be able to maximize AI’s potential and minimize the negative environmental impacts for a more sustainable future.
- https://unfccc.int/news/accelerating-the-development-and-transfer-of-climate-technolo gies-to-developing-countries
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- https://climateconnection.org.in/updates/role-ai-tackling-climate-change-double-edge d-sword