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Climate change is the planet’s greatest challenge. The UN has already stated that 2021 is the final year for us to make real change in the fight against rising global temperatures. The UN organization is hosting the COP26 climate summit to address this dilemma of the century, where major players like Hitachi and BCG are involved as partners in this critical effort. Moreover, with Climate AI Champions in the picture, these innovators could provide the right solutions we need in the fight for survival and growth. The climate change crisis is real, finding quick and affordable solutions is an urgency, and AI can play a major role. According to the EDF, its unmitigated damages have cost the US $1 billion, wasted dollars that could have otherwise been invested in other public sector initiatives. However, given the advanced capacity for solutions in our Digital Age, artificial intelligence gives us hope for a better planet and a bright future. Around the world, innovators are working to fight climate change with unique AI use cases that can help to prevent wildfires, mitigate environmental risks posed in vulnerable hotspots, drone surveillance monitoring, and predictive technologies in a concerted effort to make our Earth more livable and resilient for decades to come. 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
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, optimization 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 minimize 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.
In addition, big tech companies have taken to the stand in the fight against rising global temperatures. Microsoft has pledged to be carbon negative by 2030 and remove all the carbon the company has emitted since 1975, Apple is shifting focus on using low-carbon aluminum in production, Amazon pledges to be net zero by 2040, and Google’s $5.75 billion sustainability bonds will fund environmentally and socially responsible projects.
With all of this in mind, it is imperative to look at specific AI Use Cases that Climate AI Champions are bringing into the world at the moment. Below is presented a list of the latest advancements in the field.
AI for Net Zero Waste
Waste reduction is one of the key areas where the true power of artificial intelligence can be leveraged. For example, Greyparrot is an AI Startup that uses “AI-powered computer vision software to increase transparency and automation in recycling.” The startup recently raised £1.825m in seed funding round to revolutionize recycling with waste recognition software. On the consumer and retail side of things, Wasteless is “helping supermarkets and online grocery stores recapture the full value of their perishable products and reduce food waste through AI-powered dynamic pricing.” Another startup that is leveraging AI to combat waste is WINT. “WINT detects and stops leaks at the source using Artificial Intelligence. It alerts you when water is leaking and automatically shuts it off. Intelligent real-time monitoring identifies sources of leaks and waste, reducing your water consumption and preventing damage.” All of these startups use advanced predictive analytics and dynamic monitoring systems to reduce waste, and are real Use Cases in the fight against Climate Change.
AI for Environmental Intelligence: Better Climate Predictions
AI has helped researchers gain 89% to 99% percent accuracy in identifying tropical cyclones, weather fronts and atmospheric rivers, the latter of which can cause heavy precipitation and are often hard for humans to identify on their own (Columbia University Climate Institute). Environmental Intelligence has become especially significant for predicting climate trends and patterns that are extreme in nature. Artificial intelligence and deep learning have the ability to quickly analyze dynamic systems and simulate them (like atmospheric pressure and overlying chemistry), and produce accurate models that can then be applied by scientists and researchers for more robust decision making.
For example, Google is “Using Machine Learning to “Nowcast” Precipitation in High Resolution,” which enables almost instant prediction of weather patterns. According to The Verge, unlike traditional models, “Google’s methods, by comparison, produce results in minutes because they don’t try to model complex weather systems, but instead make predictions about simple radar data as a proxy for rainfall.” In addition to Google, initiatives like the Ocean Data Alliance implements AI and “working with a global network of cities to develop comparative Smart Ocean City Action Plans that put open ocean data to work to fix the ocean and address the climate crisis.” The ultimate goal is to launch “Smart Ocean Cities can improve waste-water treatment to prevent algae blooms and restore oxygen to coastal dead zones.” On the topic of water challenges, Argonne Nationals Labs is addressing water challenges in conjunction with climate change, energy, food and health.
More Use Cases in Climate Prediction
- AI is being used by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to build better predictions of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and unlock new insights from various data sources.
- NYU scientists, backed by a $10 million grant from Schmidt Futures, will work to enhance climate-change projections by improving climate simulations using artificial intelligence.
- Green Horizons, an IBM research initiative, is using AI and IoT to analyze climate change data. The system uses machine learning to ingest data from sources such as meteorological satellites and traffic cameras to constantly learn and adjust the predictive models. It is able to forecast pollution 72 hours in advance, with an accuracy down to the nearest kilometer on where the pollution is coming from and where it will likely go.
Drones and Environmental Monitoring
Another area where AI is making an impact for climate change is with drone surveillance of forests. Speaking to the press association (PA), technology entrepreneur Ewan Kirk said that drones are one of the easiest ways to collect important data from remote regions, and gather intelligence 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.” For example, Dendra Systems “uses advanced data science, artificial intelligence, and drone automation to rehabilitate land and restore biodiverse ecosystems at scale.” Another startup based out of Finland, Aeromon, leverages drones to track industrial emissions in real time “Aeromon reveals the true extent of airborne emissions. Our mobile and fixed devices detect, measure, and visualize multiple gases and particulate matter. Our solutions enable automatic reporting of emissions with a 360 degree view giving our customers real-time process insights.” It is evident that drones are a critical aspect of monitoring environmental health, and are part of the key to resolving climate change. According to Charlotte Degot, Partner at BCG GAMMA “Many corporations commit to limiting their environmental impact, but most face two primary challenges: 1) Transparency on where exactly CO2 emissions come from, and 2) finding scalable solutions to reduce emissions with positive financial impact. That’s where BCG CO2.AI can help.”
More Use Cases in Environmental monitoring:
- Everimpact, France combines satellite imagery and ground sensing to monitor air quality and carbon emissions in cities.
- Hypergiant, Austin Texas created a product Eos Bioreactor that can regulate the growth of the algae and optimize its carbon-absorbing properties and give off oxygen
- Overstory, Netherlands uses satellite-imagery-based forestry analytics that can yield far more accurate and timely data on dangers like these at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.
- OroraTech, Germany is a commercial supplier of infrared satellite data used for early detection and real-time monitoring of wildfires.
- Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany and EDI GmbH, a spinoff of KIT partners in the forestry sector are developing the EDE 4.0 assistance system to helps foresters preserve and sustainably manage forests using AI.
Food Supply Chain Optimization and Improving Agricultural Output
AI is becoming prevalent, from better predicting demand in restaurants to reducing food waste to helping developing world farmers diagnose and treat agricultural crops. For example, Indian farmers have been able to achieve up to 30% higher yields with machine learning advice on when is the best time to sow crops. In addition, Beyond Meat (supported by Bill Gates) has created the world’s first meat burger that is entirely plant based. Another great example of optimization comes from BCG, which was able to leverage climate change data combined with powerful AI algorithms to predict crop yields and produce evaluated risk reports for a French Wine & Spirits Manufacturer.
The Way Forward
Moving forward, we need to focus on transforming how data-driven solutions are being developed and commercialized at scale. Artificial Intelligence has proven itself to be an important piece of fighting climate change and restoring the environmental integrity of our planet. With more AI innovations on the horizon, we can expect more multifaceted solutions to come to the climate change table. Finally, we need to educate enterprises and the public sector on the potential for AI. As per Hamid Maher, Partner, Head of Social Impact at BCG GAMMA, & Managing Director at Boston Consulting Group, “It is critical that companies start incorporating the impacts of climate change in their future planning processes. By identifying these changes early, companies can build in practices that will increase adaptation and resilience to such changes, allowing for future success.”