Harnessing AI For Climate Change – The Way Forward

Sujha Sundararajan

October 13, 2020

Quick rise in temperatures, extreme weather events, rising sea level and the melting of glaciers are all few impacts that are viewed in a bigger picture as climate change. Nowadays, we go through news such as frequent flooding in the central US, a longer and fiercer wildfire in California and droughts across the Great Plains.

Many technologies are examined to address such environmental challenges and artificial intelligence (AI) is one such. According to a World Economic Forum report, AI points to computer systems that has the potential to “sense their environment, think, learn, and act in response to what they sense and their programmed objectives.”

With increasing climate crisis every year, governments, organizations, businesses and even individual experts are looking for nascent technologies for potential solutions. AI’s ability to process and understand masses of data has always placed the tech in the forefront in undertaking climate modelling and developing sustainable spaces.

For an individual engineer like Bainomugisha and a team of experts from Makerere University in Uganda, cleansing impure and polluted air across the continent, has been the top priority. “I’m a little bit obsessed with air,” he said.

Bainomugisha and his team was selected from over 2600 applicants to receive a grant through the Google AI Impact Challenge. Their project dubbed ‘AirQo’ is a low-cost air pollution monitoring system, that is capable of measuring particulate matter and other major pollutants as well as environmental factors such as temperature, humidity and location. The project combines AI and has the potential to improve the air quality thus, impacting millions of lives in Uganda.

Emerging AI Game Changers

Like Bainomugisha, numerous companies, tech leaders and businesses are harnessing AI for social and environmental impact. Microsoft for instance, has initiated ‘AI for Earth’, that aims to create sustainable solutions across four areas that are key to the health of the planet and the future of humankind: agriculture, water, biodiversity, and climate change.

Agrimetrics that comprises heightened connectivity and automation across the food and farming sectors, cloud agronomics, a remote-sensing tech and AI to monitor forest and crop health to lower greenhouse gas emissions’, and breeze technologies that develops compact air quality sensors to create hyperlocal maps using AI, are among an array of innovative solutions that are being developed by Microsoft.

Countries like India and China are keen in identifying and addressing environmental pain points. China launched a pilot program to develop automated tools and technologies for farming such as robotic tractors and unmanned harvesters. This 7-year initiative aims to ease manual and heavy machinery farming into seamless, efficient and automated process.

Indian think tank Niti Aayog on the other hand, partnered with Microsoft to deploy AI-driven solutions across various sectors such as agriculture and healthcare. Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog, visualized the potentials of AI technology to be brought into environment and agriculture which are “important for the inclusive development of India.”

AI for Environment: Why Now?

As the planet continues to warm, climate change impacts are intensifying. In 2019, the earth’s surface temperature was around 0.95 Celsius degrees warmer than the 20th century average, according to NASA records. In the last few years, global temperatures have been consistently among the hottest on record.

With such evidence for rapid climate changes, it is better to tackle these issues now with the potentials of nascent and growing technologies such as AI, before it is too late. AI approaches have valid use cases when it comes to studying the environment and solving climate change.

Sources: WorldEconomicForum, GoogleAI, Microsoft, RealClear, EconomicTimes

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About the author
Sujha Sundararajan

Contributing Author

Sujha has been writing and reporting on cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology developments since 2014. Her work has appeared in CoinDesk, CCN, EconoTimes and Fintech News Malaysia. She is also an accomplished Indian classical singer and loves baking cakes.

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