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Technology and Innovation: Drivers of Change To Combat the Climate Crisis

COP26 has dominated the headlines throughout early November as the world’s leaders, scientists, activists, and academics gathered in Glasgow to discuss meaningful ways on how best to tackle climate change and reduce our impact on the environment.

With tackling climate change labelled “the defining issue of our time”, global governments have restated their commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Indeed, scientists say we have a rapidly closing window to limit climate change’s devastating effects by limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

What’s apparent, is that using technological innovation as a driver of change makes this a more than achievable goal. However, any tech solution to tackling climate change is complex, multifaceted and requires cooperation and partnership across industries, sectors, and political lines.

Tech innovation in the environmental space is happening all the time. There’s a wealth of new technologies, both already in play, and on the horizon, designed to accelerate the world’s trajectory toward a green future.

From increased uptake in electric cars, renewable energy solutions and sustainable farming techniques, we’re already seeing the crucial role technological innovations play in making modern living more sustainable for our planet.

In this article, we’ve picked out a few that are utilising some incredible technology and are particularly exciting.

Smart Cities

Cities often lack the capacity to create measure that respond to climate change quickly and effectively, leaving populations vulnerable to the impacts.

With the advances in the internet of things (IoT), AI and smart sensors, more and more smart cities are being designed in an effort to address today’s urban challenges which are negatively impacting the environment.

Reducing carbon emissions by incorporating smart alternative to transport, supporting energy efficiencies to tackle increased consumption demands and using real-time monitoring and management to ensure improvements are all being used to change cities’ infrastructures and improve their environmental sustainability.

Protecting Forests and Forecasting Wildfires Using AI

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to accelerate progress towards our global environmental and climate target. Some estimate that AI could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 4% in 2030, equivalent to the annual emissions of Australia, Japan and Canada combined.

When it comes to mitigating against the climate induced risk of wildfires, AI can play a pivotal role. Using historical fire data, existing simulations, and real-time satellite observations, it’s possible to forecast wildfire risk at a hyperlocal level.

In addition, satellite imagery can be combined with machine learning to inventory forest more precisely, helping conservationists and landowners better manage and understand forests and the impact of climate change.

Simulating Emissions Using Predictive Analytics

A lack of truly accurate measurements of carbon emissions from certain processes makes emission reduction planning a genuine challenge. 

Artificial intelligence of things (AIoT) technology creates insights from real-time data to overcome this challenge and better predict process emissions. Through analysing and learning from the data, AIoT is able to optimise emissions predictions and improve the process over time.

The technology can also help to improve efficiencies, thus lowering the cost of reducing carbon emissions for governments and businesses over time.

More Efficient Use of Data Centres

With more and more people and businesses taking advantage of off-site cloud storage solutions and working remotely, modern data centres have typically proven more energy efficient than personal computers. However, it is not clear how much energy data centres are using, or what greenhouse gas emissions they are responsible for.

Rather than using local machines to perform energy-intensive applications, a considerable amount of energy expenditure can be offset by having these applications performed in the cloud.

There are millions of servers in data centres all over the world, all of which need electricity to run. Estimates vary but the most commonly cited figure suggests that amounts to around one percent of global electricity demand. This may grow to between 15-30% of electricity consumption in some countries by 2030.

The likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft therefore could play a key role in reducing their energy emissions on a global scale through their cloud computing scale. 

Space Technology as the Earth’s Thermometer

In the UK, the government is backing and funding a project that will see the launch of the world’s first small satellite designed to deliver high-quality thermo video and still imagery of the Earth.

Through launching a small constellation of infrared satellites, it will be possible to measure the thermal emissions from any structure on the planet. Effectively, the tech will act as a global thermometer, allowing scientists to monitor energy efficiency and our carbon footprint like never before.

Having access to this information should ensure that governments, companies, and individuals are on track to meet global carbon emission goals.

A Nod to the Data Behind the Tech

While technology may be the driver of change, without data the direction of travel would be aimless. 

Often the unsung hero in a major global crisis, effective use of rich, qualified data is critical in allowing the impact to be assessed and an informed response to be made – we’ve seen examples of this throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the Amazonian Rainforest Wildfires.

Using data, both historical and real-time can help us cut carbon emissions and reach net zero. However, in order to do this, it will involve gathering data about every single process on the planet that generates carbon dioxide including homes, cars, trains and in every office.

It’s a tall order but understanding the trends and spikes in the data are essential to decide on the best way to save the planet as quickly as possible in a sustainable way.

Meeting the global challenge of reducing carbon emission and achieving net-zero by 2030 is by no means a small feat. Technology is already playing a significant role in slowing down the impact, and in order will need to continue to be at the heart of change going forward.

Through using technology, focusing on innovation, and underpinning the entire process with data and insight, globally we stand a better chance of meeting our targets and making a meaningful impact on the environment for the years to come.

If you are interested in hearing more about how technology is changing the way we live take a look here.

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