The potential positive impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is significant and organizations can expect to cut GHG emissions by 16% in the next three to five years through AI-driven climate action projects according to a research report by Capgemini Research Institute.
Despite the considerable potential of AI for climate action, adoption remains low. This could be due to several barriers to progress:
More than eight in ten organizations spend less than 5% of climate change investment on AI and data tracking; 54% have fewer than 5% of employees with the skills to take up data and AI-driven roles; and more than a third (37%) of sustainability executives have decelerated their climate goals in light of COVID-19, with the highest deceleration in the energy and utilities industry.
Only 13% of organizations have aligned their climate vision and strategy with their AI capabilities – these are who Capgemini defines as climate AI champions. Two-fifths of these come from Europe, followed by the Americas and APAC. Climate AI champions are closer to the required Paris Agreement temperature contributions compared with their peers in both scope 1 and 2 emissions and have made considerable gains in applying AI to reduce direct emissions.
A clear knowledge gap is also emerging, as 84% of executives would rather compensate for (or offset) their carbon footprint than deploy technology solutions to reduce their footprint (16%) in the long run. This suggests a lack of awareness for AI climate action potential. According to the report organizations need to invest in AI and data science teams to understand how best to deploy AI to harness it positively for sustainability.
Despite technology advances, AI systems and solutions can potentially consume a lot of power and can generate significant volumes of climate-changing carbon emissions. Before beginning to deploy AI use cases, organizations need to carefully assess the environmental impact, build greater awareness and build AI solutions with sustainability core design principles, to ensure that the benefits of their AI deployments outweigh their emissions “cost”.
Anne Laure Thieullent, Vice President, Artificial Intelligence and Analytics Group Offer Leader at Capgemini said, “For climate action as well, execution starts from the top of the organization, by aligning the use of data & AI to its strategic corporate agenda, with sustainability at the heart of it. Without this clear direction, there is a missing link between intention and technology prioritization and execution."
"Organizations have the opportunity to prioritize the deployment of AI solutions to address their sustainable goals. Frameworks now exist to educate, build awareness, establish scalable operating models, and manage data to deliver tangible business outcomes with AI applied to climate action. And of course, this requires AI solutions to be designed, built, deployed and monitored with sustainable design principles to ensure overall positive environmental impact,” added Thieullent.
From the 800 sustainability and tech executives surveyed in 400 organizations in the automotive, industrial/process manufacturing, energy and utilities, consumer products and retail industries, nearly half (48%) are using AI for climate action and as a result have reduced greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 12.9%, improved power efficiency by 10.9% and reduced waste by 11.7% since 2017.