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AI to Champion Innovative Climate Change Solutions

Taking a look at some of the ways AI champions industry-leading tech to combat growing environmental issues around the world

|Apr 8|magazine22 min read

The 20th and 21st centuries have been an incredible time of exponential growth for the human race. We’ve found unprecedented levels of peace between eastern and western societies, and the introduction of unimaginable technological development has brought the world together, pushing warring factions to work collaboratively towards a higher purpose and overall betterment across the globe. Right now, the most pressing agenda on the minds of business people and innovators is, as you will already know, sustainability and the fight against climate change. 

Through diplomacy and successful unions, we’ve experienced an era where industry is developing new products and services on a previously unseen level; people are free to travel to almost every corner of the planet, and interdependence between nations has become the norm. It’s an incredible feat, but as with everything good in this life, there is a price to pay ─ unfortunately, the planet itself is paying that price. 

Climate change is, irrefutably, the planet’s most significant challenge to date. It’s the cataclysmic amalgamation of all of the previously mentioned factors and the previously unmentioned negative facets that come with them: the overexploitation of natural resources, increased dependence on fossil fuels, and the mass production of goods and services. 

We are now pushing our world to the brink of destruction. 

The United Nations’ Chilling Warning

The United Nations (UN) has already warned leaders that 2021 is the final opportunity to make a real, lasting change in our resistance against rising global temperatures. While countries ─ especially in the West ─ are trying their very best to cull their polluting habits and reduce inhabitants’ individual carbon footprints, we’re running out of time. And, for the most part, it looks like we’re failing in our mission. It is harder to climb back down the mountain, after all ─ and the mountain we’ve built across the past century is massive. 

On Monday, 1st November, the UN will be hosting its final COP26 climate summit to discuss the growing issue, with leading companies like Hitachi, SSE, Scottish Power, and BCG standing in as principal partners in this critical effort. The ongoing narrative for the event suggests that industry leaders will push for a last-ditch attempt to save the planet from its own inhabitants’ bad habits through the use of innovative tech solutions. 

More importantly, the event will likely place to spotlight on Climate AI Champions as they foray into the sustainability battlefield. These innovators are our best hope of finding the right solutions to our problems whilst simultaneously allowing for the growth and further development that we’ve grown accustomed to across the past century. 

The overwhelming message is that the climate change threat is genuine, and the planet is now in crisis mode. Artificial intelligence can and will play a major role in alleviating it. 

Why AI? 

We live in a Digital Age. It’s a time of great development, and right now, we have an advanced capacity for solutions; aside from changing human habits, artificial intelligence is our best hope.

In recent years, innovative AI startups have demonstrated the technologies’ ability to help by finding unique AI use cases ranging from the prevention of wildfires, mitigation of environmental risks posed by vulnerable hotspots, drone surveillance monitoring, and predictive technologies. If we fail to capitalise on this opportunity now, it has been suggested that the global economy will be damaged so severely in the next two decades that it’ll be comparable to a COVID-sized pandemic every ten years. 

According to Mark Minevich, a Global Digital Cognitive Strategist, Digital Visionary, and Artificial Intelligence expert:

“AI will be a major enabler at the core of climate change technologies. There are multiple benefits that come with artificial intelligence in addressing this challenge. First, AI is capable of impact decoupling, such as decreasing environmental harm, including CO2 emissions, leveraging massive amounts of data, learning algorithms as well as sensing devices. Emissions can be halted in the energy sector by using AI technology to forecast the supply and demand of power for the national grid, improve the scheduling of renewables, and reduce life-cycle fossil fuel emissions through predictive maintenance. Moreover, in transportation, AI Solutions can enable more accurate traffic predictions, optimisation of commercial transportation, modelling of demand and shared mobility options.

AI also shows benefits in resource decoupling, or the decoupling of economic output from the volume of resources used from the environment such as materials, water and land. When it comes to AI applied in food systems, it can help better monitor crop yields, reduce the need for chemicals and excess water through precision agriculture and minimise food waste through forecasting demand and identifying spoiled produce. AI systems can furthermore be used in buildings and cities to automatically help control heating and cooling as well as model energy.”

The Big Players Step In

The big, household names in tech have also started to step into the climate change arena in recent years, with goals that seem astronomical, borderline impossible, but are wholly doable.

  • Amazon, the industry-leading retailer, has pledged to reach net-zero by 2040 through responsible sourcing and carbon-friendly logistics alternatives. 
  • Apple, the creator of the revolution iOS and macOS products, is looking to use low-carbon materials in its production line.
  • Google has committed $5.75bn in sustainability bonds that will be used to fund environmentally and socially responsible projects around the world.
  • Microsoft has pledged to reach a point of carbon negativity by 2030 and remove all of the carbon that the company has emitted since 1975. 

These four are just a minority in the worldwide push, but they’re certainly leading the charge and setting an excellent example to other companies and competitors in the international markets. 

AI Champions Climate Change

Let’s take a look at some of the specific AI use cases that were previously mentioned, and see exactly what artificial intelligence brings to the table. 

AI for Environmental Intelligence

Environmental Intelligence (EI) is something that you might not hear too much about, but it’s ever-present in the background of our lives. It has become particularly significant when it comes to predicting the evolving weather trends and extreme patterns. 

Why? Because AI and deep learning techniques can analyse dynamic systems and simulate them before producing increasingly accurate models that scientists can use to better their decision-making process. 

In fact, according to the Columbia University Climate Institute, when it comes to identifying and predicting extreme weather systems like tropical cyclones, new weather fronts, and atmospheric rivers, AI has helped researchers gain 89-99% accuracy.  

AI for Environmental Monitoring

No doubt you saw the craze for drones a couple of years back when they were made available for consumers before quickly being regulated for a large number of mishaps involving flight paths and secure sights. Before consumers could get their hands on these little flying machines, they were strictly military-grade and governmental. 

Today, drones are making a huge impact on the fight against climate change through drone surveillance of forests worldwide. In a conversation with the press association, Dr Ewan Kirk, a technology entrepreneur, stated that AI-enhanced drones are one of the very best ways to easily collect important data about remote regions, which is great for building a bigger picture on ecological health. 

“Using UAVs to effectively monitor vegetation and land over large areas will help scientists and researchers to create large data sets helping them understand how climate change is affecting some of the world’s most critical resources.”

Dendra Systems is an excellent example of this, with technology that “uses advanced data science, artificial intelligence, and drone automation to rehabilitate land and restore biodiverse ecosystems at scale.” 

AI for Food Supply Chain Optimisation

Food waste is one of our biggest problems in Western society and developed nations across the globe. We’ve got more than we need, and we’re not very good at using it all ─ eyes bigger than our bellies, comes to mind. AI is helping us address this issue too. 

Through the use of detailed analysis by AI systems, companies can better predict the demand in restaurants, supermarkets, and local markets, to help reduce food waste. And, due to the fact that the developed world tends to rely heavily on the developing world’s yearly harvests to sustain its eating habits, companies are now using ‘digital agriculture’ ─ AI that helps farmers diagnose and treat crops.

Digital agriculture has been brought to farmers in a collaborative effort between Microsoft, and ICRISAT in an AI Sowing App powered by Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite and includes Machine Learning and Power BI. The app sends sowing advisories to participating farmers on the optimal date to sow. The best part, though ─ the farmers don’t need to install any sensors in their fields or incur any capital expenditure. All they need is a feature phone capable of receiving text messages.

According to Microsoft, in the case of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, India, where the AI-powered system has already been rolled out, sewing advisories lead to 30% higher yields during harvest season. Overall, this betters the developed worlds stocks and the economy of developing nations, a benefit for both buyer and supplier.

As we progress into the ‘20s, companies must innovate new, sustainable, eco-friendly norms and values. For the issue that we currently face, artificial intelligence has proven its ability to play a crucial role in our fight for, arguably, survival. With any hope, innovative AI solutions will soon restore environmental harmony and integrity to the planet. From that moment on, it is our job to hold both companies and ourselves accountable for wasteful habits and environment-damning tendencies. 

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