AI in the Fight against Climate Change: A Double-Edged Sword?

Posted On September 13, 2021

Climate Change may be defined as global warming resulting from human-induced greenhouse
gas emissions leading to unpredictable and extreme changes in weather patterns. Over the past few years
the effects of climate change have increased drastically, to the point that storms, floods, and fires are
becoming far more frequent, such that millions of people are suffering from the catastrophic
consequences of these extreme disasters. The United Nations claimed that 2021 is the final year in which
a real change may be made in the fight against rising temperatures. Furthermore, an intergovernmental
report published in 2018 emphasised the importance of eradicating greenhouse gas emissions in the next
thirty years to avoid cataclysmic consequences. However, year after year, these emissions are constantly
on the rise, and failure to act against this uprising issue in light of such grave scientific evidence, may be
seen as the greatest inter-generational human rights violation.


To address the effects of climate change we need to hasten the conversion to zero-carbon
transmission, which requires two main actions; mitigation and adaptation. Existing literature may render
ineffective to mitigate such impacts of climate change due to the severity of the situation. In this case,
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a paradigm which has great potential in assessing and mitigating the risk of
climate change with the use of data, learning algorithms and sensing devices which helps both impact and
resource decoupling. Impact decoupling aims at reducing environmental damage with the main aim of
action being the reduction of CO2 emissions. AI can help predict the demand of power needed in the
national grid and in turn improve the scheduling of renewables and reduce the use of fossil fuels. AI is
also beneficial in resource decoupling which enables an economy to sustain economic growth without
increasing the use of environmental resources such as land and water. This involves monitoring crop
yields and the amount of chemicals and water needed to avoid excess. It may also be used as a control
mechanism with regards to cooling and heating buildings and cities in turn reducing the amount of energy
used.


However, although at first sight AI may seem as the miracle needed to solve the climate
crisis, once one delves deeper into the topic one realises that it also comes at cost to the planet. The carbon
footprint left by artificial intelligence needs to be kept in mind especially since it is considered to be a
significant emitter of carbon. It is estimated that around 300,000 kg of carbon dioxide emissions are
created to simply train a large language model. However, recently big tech companies such as Microsoft
and Apple have vouched to reduce carbon emissions and take a stand against climate change, which is a
step forward to making AI more environmentally sustainable. Moving away from the environmental
concerns, AI also carries with it an ethical issue regarding data driven technologies
specifically machine learning. Machine learning can be used to analyse data and make climatic predictions
however, the way in which such data is achieved has raised concerns regarding privacy, transparency and
data bias which may lead to discrimination.


In conclusion, one is left questioning whether AI is truly the answer to the current climate
catastrophe or whether it is a double-edged sword. The pros and cons of such a controversial topic will be
further discussed at the event by Science in the City “Enter the Fishbowl” on the 15th of September which
is a collaboration by the three law organisations; Għaqda Studenti tal-Liġi (GħSL), Junior Chamber of
Advocates (JCA)
and European Law Students’ Association (ELSA).

Written by Maegan Grech

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