Using artificial intelligence, companies could reduce their total greenhouse gas emissions by 5%–10% by 2030, making a significant contribution to achieving the Paris Agreement targets. The potential impact of using AI in corporate sustainability policies ranges from $1.3 to $2.6 trillion, through additional revenues and cost savings. These estimates come from a report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 'Reduce Carbon and Costs with the Power of AI', in which it analyses how technology can accelerate companies’ transformations toward sustainability by reducing environmental impact and rapidly cutting costs. The positive effect on investment is often seen within just one year of application, which means that artificial intelligence has a key role in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, as well as in the transition to a sustainable future.
The impact of artificial intelligence
This reflection is complemented by an in-depth study published on the website of the EIT Digital Climate-KIC, a European community that aims to tackle climate change through innovation. The article, AI and climate change: the promise, the perils and pillars for action, states: “If we don’t act decisively now, the economic damage caused by climate change in the next two decades will likely be as bad as a COVID-sized pandemic every ten years”. The author, Eirini Malliaraki, a researcher at the Alan Turing Institute in London, emphasises the possibilities offered by artificial intelligence. Emissions in the energy sector can be limited by predicting supply and demand, renewable energies can be planned more efficiently and emissions from fossil fuels can be reduced through predictive maintenance.
"The planetary scale of our knowledge and technologies are revealing new interdependencies and feedback loops between environmental and engineered systems", writes Eirini Malliaraki. “This renewed understanding requires an updated ethical, ontological, and practical discourse – one that is not reductionist, but rather makes the moral responsibility for planetary custodianship even more urgent. Accordingly, the consideration of environmental impacts and the responsibility to care for our planet should be reflected in our technical infrastructure, our ways of working and our practices and policies for fair, accountable, transparent and ethical AI systems”.
To what extent can artificial intelligence contribute to a zero-emissions economy?
Artificial intelligence may be an important factor in helping humans move more quickly away from fossil fuels, but there are still many unanswered questions. To what extent can AI contribute to a zero-emission economy? How quickly can this happen, given the urgency of the challenge? What is the net impact on the planet? Roberto Ventura, Managing Director and Partner of BCG Gamma, a global team at the Boston Consulting Group, explains, "The strength of AI lies in its ability to learn from experience, exploiting massive amounts of data collected from different sources, and to be able to create for human users reports that are sometimes extremely difficult to understand, with the aim of supporting decision-making processes”. Thus, advances in artificial intelligence look set to transform the way all companies do business, from the optimisation of production and energy systems, the way scientists analyse and use data, predicting climate change and crop failure, to understanding ecosystems.
The importance of predictive analytics
Society faces an enormous environmental challenge, and actions taken today will determine how we adapt to a changing world, how we preserve natural resources and the quality of life for future generations. An Intel study found that 74% of technology leaders believe artificial intelligence can help solve long-standing environmental challenges. Ninety-two per cent believe that predictive analytics will help detect problems and develop new solutions, provided that costs and regulatory barriers can be overcome. Another Microsoft analysis of artificial intelligence in Europe shows that 89% of companies surveyed expect to generate business benefits by optimising their operations and increasing resource efficiency.
Aware of regulatory issues, the European Union is leading the call for a global industrial policy on artificial intelligence and robotics. Artificial intelligence, the European Parliament notes, can help energy suppliers move from preventive to predictive resource management by helping energy-intensive sectors identify and improve their services. This can pave the way for greener and smarter transport networks. This is a topical issue for Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR), an investment programme that Italy must present to the European Commission as part of Next Generation EU, which is a recovery instrument for responding to the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The author: Maria Pia Rossignaud
Journalist and expert on digital media writing, she is one of the twenty-five digital experts of the European Commission Representation in Italy, director of the first Italian digital culture magazine "Media Duemila" and Vice President of the TuttiMedia Observatory.
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