Can Artificial Intelligence Help Tackle Climate Change?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is present in our lives in many areas, from phones where we can easily access almost any information anywhere in the world to supermarkets where we can shop with a ‘click’; from banks where we can easily process transactions online to social platforms where we spend most of our time.

But, can artificial intelligence make a positive contribution to understanding the problems caused by climate change too, problems gradually turning into a crisis?

In fact, AI can help climate researchers find solutions in many areas such as air pollution. An example of this is IBM’s Green Horizon Project, which predicts pollution by analyzing environmental data and testing what will happen if pollution is reduced. Likewise, Google has reduced the energy its data centers use by around 15% by employing data from machine learning algorithms.

Programs like these can also help and encourage other firms to reduce their carbon footprint.

Remarkable progress has been made too in using machine learning algorithms based on data from other extreme weather events to identify tropical cyclones and atmospheric rivers. And, although machines are not fully trusted, climate scientists can work with them to make better progress.

How Can Monitoring and Measuring Be Useful?

It is an almost indisputable fact that only when acting together can industries and governments reduce emissions and humans’ impact on the climate. However, it remains critical to monitor whether industries are moving towards emission reduction and expand environmentally friendly practices.

At this point, AI offers a way to reduce harmful emissions. Large volumes of data can now be processed from power plants to increase efficiency and optimize operations. Sensors installed in these plants can gather information about all aspects of a facility’s operations and allow for improvements to processing capacity, performance and operation.

AI can also seek out those who break rules designed to reduce pollution and offer greater transparency against weak energy practices. Indeed, Carbon Tracker recently announced a new project using satellite images to both detect and measure carbon emissions from major power plants around the world. Such measures hope to hold polluting facilities accountable and improve global environmental standards.

Helping Individuals Help the Environment

Everyday and relatively simple technologies can also help users be more environmentally conscious. For instance, in 2017, the transport sector was the source of more than a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions in the E.U. The use of autonomous vehicles that do not run on fuel helps avoid such environmentally harmful transportation.

Artificial intelligence supported smart meters, which are now widely installed in homes, allow two-way communication between the power grid and users, saving energy and providing a better understanding of power use to energy providers. Additionally, AI is helping combat our dependence on fossil fuels by making renewable energy technology like solar panels more efficient and cost-effective.

If used in a sensible way, artificial intelligence can contribute to global sustainability. AI must be understood as central to empowering governments, organizations and individuals to make more informed decisions and create a more livable planet.

What are the Opportunities of AI Implementation?

Developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence have spurred major advances in society that could have far-reaching consequences. Driven by the explosion of existing and accessible data sources made possible by both rapid advances in high-throughput hardware and high-bandwidth internet connections and sensor connectivity provided by the Internet of Things (IoT), the rising economic value of artificial intelligence is estimated to be $16 trillion by 2030, making it a powerful change agent.

On the other hand, the rise of AI includes an unprecedented combination of complex dynamics that pose challenges for multilateral efforts to manage its development and use. Global governance approaches will need to strike the right balance between enabling beneficial innovation and reducing risks and negative impacts. Global governance has a role to play in developing standards for balancing the benefits and risks of using AI technologies, with due diligence paid to ensuring citizens are aware of their rights and protections.

The AI community is now turning its attention to combating climate change. In particular, the authors of “Fighting Climate Change with Machine Learning” argue that machine learning can be a powerful tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping society adapt to a changing climate because machine learning brings with it tremendous efficiency gains and improved public services to assist in collecting data and guiding future development plans.

Still, despite the enthusiasm for applying AI to climate solutions, a challenge remains in the lack of interdisciplinary collaboration, which makes AI practitioners unsure, or unaware, of how best to apply their resources to fighting climate change.


Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on Nov. 18, 2020.


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