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Digital Technology: Friend Or Enemy Against Climate Change?

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Digital Technology: Friend Or Enemy Against Climate Change?

From energy that goes into making smartphones to the fact that also emails produce carbon emissions, world’s internet addiction comes with costs to climate.

But could digital technology be part of the result to climate change, also the problem?

Ahead of next month’s COP26 climate speeches, AFP looks at 5 ways in which technology could help to limit the impact.

Artificial intelligence

Among the numerous items on COP26 agenda, countries are preparing a road-map for using artificial intelligence (AI) to fight against climate change.

AI relies on complex calculations by high-powered computers which can eat-up vast quantities of energy.

Training a single AI algorithm system can use roughly 5 times the emission produced by a car over its life-time, consistent with the University of Massachusetts researchers.

But AI is already helping to make a vast range of industrial processes more energy efficient, just by making calculations that humans cannot.

Consultancy PwC estimates that more AI use in 4 main sectors of the economy, including agriculture & transport, could cut global emanations by 4%.

Peter Clutton Brock, co-founder of Centre for AI & Climate, said artificial intelligence wasn’t “a silver ball” that could reverse climate change.

“But there are some really interesting & exciting applications that are emerging,” he said.

These include using AI to analyze data on deforestation & melting sea ice, to better predict, which areas will be affected next.

Apps & search engines

Sceptics may argue that a single person can merely have a limited impact, but eco-conscious have different apps at their disposal to monitor their private carbon foot-prints.

Different apps estimate emissions produced by a car or plane ride, while others permit shoppers to scan items and see information on how eco-friendly they are.

Google last week announced tweaks to its search tools to show drivers the most energy-efficient routes, and display emissions information for flights.

The search engine Ecosia, meanwhile, uses profits from its ads to pay for re-forestation, with greater than 135 million trees planted so far.

Remote work

Has shift towards remote work during pandemic been good for environment? It has still unclear, say researchers.

Last year the vast drop in commuting was hailed as a contributor towards a drop in global emissions, as much of world hunkered down.

But signing-in-online still means employees use energy at home and in winter, heating individual dwellings can be less-efficient than a single office for an entire team.

The International Energy Agency found that if all white -collar workers stayed home for one day a week, global outflows could be cut-by 24 million tonnes nearly equivalent to London’s emissions in a year.

Workers with long car commutes could definitely cut their carbon footprints by staying home, IEA said.

But it concluded that the drivers with a day-to-day commute of less than 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) might actually use greater energy by staying home with the heaters-on.

Cloud computing

For years it was afraid that the giants, energy hungry data centers the internet depends upon could become a major-contributor to climate change.

But a study published in journal Science last year suggests these fears haven’t been realized, because of unexpected leaps in efficiency.

By 2018 data centers were still just consuming about 1% of the world’s electricity, despite high-demand for data storage.

Tech giants desire to cut their electricity bills is partially to thank for this.

Google, for example, used AI to reduce the costs of cooling its data centers by 40%.

Smart cities

The UN estimates that cities account for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions.

And with population forecast to grow ever more urban, inventing energy-efficient cities is a top priority.

The Internet of Things (IoT), connecting objects with sensors that can communicate & make intelligent decisions, is already being used in urban design.

A pilot project in Amsterdam, for instance, used IoT to guide drivers to empty parking spaces, reducing time-spent driving around the city searching for one.

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