AI features in discussions at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai

December 3, 2023


The COP28 climate summit in Dubai has seen talks surrounding AI’s use in combating climate change. 

However, alongside enthusiasm for AI’s potential, there are growing concerns about its energy consumption and subsequent environmental impact.

Reports from this year found that the AI industry’s energy consumption was rocketing, totaling roughly the same as a small nation.

At the summit, the United Nations and Microsoft announced a partnership to create an AI-powered platform for global climate data analysis. 

“The world must move faster to reduce carbon emissions. Simply put, you can’t fix what you can’t measure, and these new AI and data tools will allow nations to measure emissions far better than they can today,” said Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft.

This initiative aims to support the analysis of climate data submitted by the 196 parties in accordance with the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

As Microsoft states, “Microsoft will build a new platform to provide digital support to the UNFCCC’s Enhanced Transparency Framework. This platform will enable advanced analysis of global climate data through the creation of a new global climate data hub and an AI-powered data analytics platform. This will equip UNFCCC and member states with the tools they need to efficiently report and validate progress toward carbon reduction targets.”

Microsoft has already committed $3 million over two years to support the implementation of the Enhanced Transparency Framework and the Global Stocktake mechanisms established by the Paris Agreement.

The Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) and Global Stocktake (GST) are key mechanisms of the Paris Agreement. The ETF requires countries to transparently report their greenhouse gas emissions and progress in achieving climate goals. The Global Stocktake occurs every five years, assessing collective progress toward the Agreement’s long-term goals, including climate mitigation, adaptation, and financial support.

The company has also actively supported numerous climate change initiatives and conservation projects, notably in the Amazon rainforest

This is juxtaposed against the company’s immense energy and water consumption, which is only set to increase.

Microsoft is currently planning a huge infrastructure buildout, further challenging its role in environmentally conscious causes.

The rising resource demands of the AI industry 

While the use of AI in climate initiatives is promising, concerns about its energy consumption are mounting. 

As noted by studies from this year, the energy consumption of AI systems and associated hardware workloads could reach levels equivalent to the electricity consumption of entire countries. 

This is an immense concern, as the energy demand for AI systems is only expected to increase substantially in the coming years. 

Nvidia, a major supplier of GPUs used for AI, is shipping hundreds of thousands of chips worldwide, all of which consume a large quantity of power. While energy-efficient chips are in the works, these powerful ‘brute force’ GPUs will remain fundamental for years to come. 

On the one hand, there is significant optimism about the role of AI in combating climate change. On the other, there is a growing recognition of the need to address the environmental impact of the technology itself. 

Understanding the true balance of AI’s benefits and risks to the climate is nigh impossible.

Indeed, the entire authenticity of the COP28 summit has been brought into contention, with allegations that the Gulf nations are using the summit to strike up oil deals

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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