Climate change and AI

Climate change is one of the most daunting challenges of our times. It has become a global emergency, challenging scientists, engineers, and industry experts from a wide array of disciplines to use their knowledge and skills in pursuit of solutions to protect the planet.

There is no doubt that climate change poses the most difficult scientific problem that humans have ever faced. However, rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI), and communication technologies (ICTs) offer some hope in our fight against this relatively new phenomenon. Scientists from around the world are now considering the potential use of artificial intelligence in climate change and how AI can help humanity in combating climate change effectively.

Efforts on this front are underway to bring about a meaningful change in this critical time, whether through mitigation, adaptation and resilience or by supporting the fundamentals of overall climate efforts.

AI, despite all odds, has the potential as the most effective tool that is uniquely positioned to help manage these complex issues. This is not about replacing humans as feared, but augmenting human capabilities to take on the onerous tasks. It is here that AI can help predict, streamline processes and improve efficiency. That is the power of embedded and generative AI.

Due to its capacity to gather, complete and interpret large, complex datasets on emissions, climate impact, and more, it can be used to support all stakeholders in taking a more informed and data-driven approach to combating carbon emissions and building a greener society. It can also be employed to buttress global climate efforts towards the most at-risk regions. Making rapid progress on this front, several innovative climate-tech solutions are already leveraging AI to progress in all three themes – mitigation, adaptation, and resilience.

If we take AI as a boon, it is to help us adapt to the impacts of climate change by improving the system’s ability to predict extreme weather events and providing decision-support tools to help us respond more effectively. AI can also play a critical role in increasing our resilience to the effects of climate change by helping us identify risk factors and develop plans to mitigate them. Technologies AI, sensors and drones can help increase agricultural productivity and sustainability.

Using AI technology, farmers can generate insights based on that data to apply precision agriculture or predictions for improving yields, while conserving precious resources. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, data-driven agriculture techniques can increase farm productivity by as much as 67 per cent by 2050, while simultaneously cutting down on agricultural and food losses.

For the most vulnerable countries exposed to climate disasters such as Pakistan, adaptability and resilience are necessary for ensuring that humans, nature, infrastructure, and the economy can withstand the effects of climate change. With the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events, it is clear that we must take a proactive approach to adaptation. We need to anticipate the potential impacts of climate change and take steps to mitigate them before they occur. AI can help uptake adaptation and resilience efforts by providing the tools and data we need to make informed decisions.

To make projections and anticipate the potential impacts of climate change, we need to be able to forecast localized long-term trends. For example, what is the probability of a significant drought occurring in a particular region over the next 10 years, and the potential impacts of that drought on agriculture and food security?

In addition to forecasting long-term trends, AI can also help us build early warning systems that can provide timely alerts about upcoming events. For example, by analyzing data from weather stations, satellite images and sensor networks, AI can help us identify conditions conducive to extreme weather events such as floods and wildfires. These early warning systems can allow us to take action to mitigate the impacts of these events much before they happen.

AI can also help efficiently manage the crisis by providing tools to identify people at risk of being affected by the event, and the resources they need. It can monitor the situation in real-time and provide information about the people’s location, infrastructure condition and the status of relief efforts – managing refugee camps, and tracking and coordinating relief efforts.

AI-driven planning enables government departments to understand real-time water loss and misuse. With the power of AI algorithms and big data analytics, water entities can maximize the information and data available to make better decisions while enhancing service delivery and reducing costs. Strengthening intelligent irrigation systems that use weather data and plant sensors to optimize watering schedules can help reduce the impact of drought.

AI-enabled flood defences that use real-time data about rainfall, river levels, and land elevation can help protect against flooding. It also has great potential in preserving biodiversity through species identification systems that use machine learning to help us track and protect endangered species.

Currently, most existing AI-related climate solutions are scattered, difficult to access, and lack the resource to scale. AI cannot be used to solve the climate crisis in a silo but to complement the existing solutions. It is time for decision-makers to embed AI in policy and planning. What we really need is a comprehensive framework for using AI in combating climate change to build truly resilient and robust systems that can withstand and recover from extreme weather events.

While AI does not offer a panacea for climate change, it can be used to help us build a more resilient and climate secure future. It is not possible to address our urgent and devastating climate crisis with old solutions but by bringing innovation to the mix. Deploying a human-centric, responsible, and ethical way, AI can prove to be an excellent accelerator for achieving sustainable development.

While climate change is termed a race against time, AI has the potential to speed up this race. AI offers a great opportunity to build a more resilient future for the most vulnerable nations.

The writer is a climate governance expert who works for global development organizations in the fields of research, advisory, policy analysis, and legislative reforms. He tweets/posts @razashafqat

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