The relationship between Artificial intelligence and climate change

Contact Counsellor

The relationship between Artificial intelligence and climate change

  • FM in her 2022 budget speech described AI as a sunrise technology that would “assist sustainable development at scale and modernise the country.”
  • While there is an allure to national dreams of economic prosperity and global competitiveness, underwritten by AI, there is an environmental cost and it comes with being locked into rules about said environmental impact set by powerful actors.

AI and Climate change

  • The relationship between climate change and AI is still a whisper in the wind
  • It is understudied because the largest companies working in this space are neither transparent nor meaningfully committed to studying, let alone acting, to substantively limit the climate impact of their operations.

Global status of AI

  • The “race” for dominance in AI is not fair as only a few developed economies possess certain material advantages right from the start
  • They are also dominating in setting the rules for this field
  • They have an advantage in research and development and possess a skilled workforce as well as wealth to invest in AI.
  • North America and East Asia alone account for three-fourths of global private investment in AI, patents and publications.

Climate impacts of AI

  • Large amount of energy is used for training and operating large AI models
  • In 2020, digital technologies accounted for between 1.8 per cent and 6.3 per cent of global emissions.
  • Governments of developing countries see AI as a silver bullet for solving complex socio-economic problems which will further lead to emissions
  • There would be a growing share of AI in technology-linked emissions in the coming decades.

Global Initiatives

  • UNESCO adopted the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, calling on actors to “reduce the environmental impact of AI systems, including but not limited to its carbon footprint.” in November 2021
  • Technology giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet and Facebook have announced “net zero” policies and initiatives.

India’s initiatives

  • NEAT Artificial Intelligence Learning Scheme - Pradhan mantri Yojana
  • Its aim is to promote usage of Artificial Intelligence to make learning more personalised and customised as per requirements of learners
  • “AI for All”: India’s AI strategy
  • Its focus is responsible AI, building AI solutions at scale with an intent to make India the AI garage of the world — a trusted nation to which the world can outsource AI-related work.
  • Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI)
  • Its aim is to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of AI
  • Responsible AI for Youth programme
  • Its aim is to give the young students a platform and empower them with appropriate new-age tech mindset, relevant AI skill-sets and access to required AI tool-sets to make them digitally ready for the future.
  • National AI Portal of India: Launched by government in 2020
  • It is a one-stop digital platform for artificial intelligence-related developments in the country.
  • US India Artificial Intelligence (USIAI) Initiative
  • It is an initiative by the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF), a bilateral organisation funded by the Department of Science & Technology (DST), the Government of India, and the U.S. Department of States.
  • Its focus is on AI cooperation in critical areas that are priorities for both countries

Associated Challenges

  • Developing and underdeveloped countries face a challenge on two fronts in this field
  • First, AI’s social and economic benefits are accruing to a few countries, and
  • Second, most of the current efforts and narratives on the relationship between AI and climate impact are being driven by the developed West.

Way ahead

  • Governments of developing countries, India included, should also assess their technology-led growth priorities in the context of AI’s climate costs.
  • As developing nations are not plagued by legacy infrastructure it would be easier for them to “build up better”.
  • These countries don’t have to follow the same AI-led growth paradigm as their Western counterparts.
  • It may be worth thinking through what “solutions” would truly work for the unique social and economic contexts of the communities in our global village.