The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this past month, where global leaders gathered to discuss solutions to the ongoing threats associated with the climate crisis. While progress was made in the form of a new five-year work programme to promote climate technology solutions in developing countries, the conference faced widespread criticism for failing to do enough to address the crisis. The consensus is clear that innovative new climate technologies, or green tech, will be crucial in the push towards reaching net-zero goals.
Now that COP27 is behind us, it’s a good time to reflect on key discussions surrounding green tech and take a look at what the future could hold.
What is green tech, and where are we now?
This year, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report painted a particularly bleak picture. Due to the lack of progress made, it warned that the earth is set to reach 1.5C above preindustrial temperatures within the next two decades – putting people around the world in immediate danger. This stresses the critical need for ambitious climate action to be taken throughout the global economy. The IPCC named digital technology as a key enabler of energy efficiency to reduce emissions across multiple sectors.
The report placed a spotlight on carbon removal from the atmosphere as a key way to limit further global warming and remove emissions from the air that are hard to eliminate, such as those produced through industrial processes. This can be done through planting trees and soil preservation, but also through green tech solutions, including machines that extract carbon directly from the air. Currently, many of these ‘direct air capture’ solutions are expensive and require a considerable amount of energy to implement.
The report indicated that capturing the required amount of carbon dioxide from the air through direct air capture machines would consume the amount of energy equivalent to half the world’s electricity production. Thus, it’s clear that there is still more work to be done to figure out the green tech solutions needed to meet climate targets amid the ongoing energy crisis.
The role of artificial intelligence in green tech
A new programme recently announced by the UK government has shone a light on other ways that technology can play a role in reducing carbon emissions – in this case, artificial intelligence.
The AI for Decarbonisation Programme is part of the UK’s broader Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, which is set to increase AI market growth in the UK, reduce the cost of energy, and increase the consideration of ethics, bias and equity in AI technologies within decarbonisation applications. The primary goal of the programme is to fund projects where AI is being used to accelerate the UK’s renewable energy transition and meet net-zero targets.
As an example of how businesses are using AI to meet climate goals, we can look to Rolls-Royce, that has used data analytics and AI to improve sustainability of aircraft engines. Through creating digital twins of its engines, the company has been able collect real-time data from planes in flight to model performance in the cloud, reducing unnecessary maintenance and improving the sustainability of engines. Energy giant Shell has also made use of data to track and cut greenhouse gas emissions – this is done through tracking large volumes of data and using that knowledge to optimise existing processes.
These applications of AI and data to meet sustainability goals are evidence that there are many roles that technology can play in the fight against climate change, and we are currently just at the tip of the iceberg. As the alarm continues to sound on the escalating crisis, the possibilities are endless for what could be achieved with the right resources in place. And with increasing pressure on governments and businesses to meet their targets, we can only hope that innovation in the sector will continue to grow rapidly before time runs out.