UNDP Resident Representative in China, Beate Trankmann, delivers opening remarks at the Climate Action & AI Symposium 2022

 

Prof. Liang Zheng, Vice-Dean of the Institute for AI International Governance of Tsinghua University (I-AIIG),

尊敬的杨斌副校长,尊敬的薛澜院长,

各位专家、老师,

女士们先生们,

大家早上好!很高兴出席今天的研讨会。

On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme, it’s my pleasure to be here at the Tsinghua Climate Action and AI Symposium.

We all know the severity of the climate crisis – and that tackling it is humanity’s greatest and most urgent challenge.

The earth has reached a breaking point. Parts of the Amazon are now so damaged, they release more carbon than they absorb.[1] The Arctic could be without ice by 2040.[2] And natural disasters are occurring three times more often than 50 years ago.

Climate breakdown also means momentous human suffering. Already, every 20 seconds, a weather-related disaster makes someone homeless. By 2100, around 76 percent of people worldwide will be exposed to deadly heatwaves.[3] This includes 400 million people across northern China.[4]

The latest IPCC report warns that to keep the 1.5℃ Paris target alive – widely regarded as the only safe threshold – global CO₂ emissions must halve in a decade, reach net zero by 2050 and turn negative after that.

The climate crisis is a complex web of ecological and social challenges. Right now, the scale of these challenges is outpacing our capacity to respond.

Innovative solutions will be crucial – in particular for developing countries as they face the dual task of reducing their emissions while continuing to grow and expand their economies. If applied strategically, new technologies - including AI - can potentially play a vital role in supporting both the environment and the economy.

AI is by no means a silver bullet. But it can be a powerful tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as helping society adapt to a changing climate. From smart grids, energy-saving buildings, to disaster management, we are already seeing how AI-led initiatives are speeding up our global climate response.

At UNDP, we are also starting to deploy AI to achieve climate goals. Our global Sustainable Energy Hub, for example, uses AI analytics to help plan solar mini grids for rural communities. This aims to expand sustainable energy access for 500 million people worldwide, over the next four years[5]. In India, UNDP also developed an AI platform to identify brick kilns that flout pollution controls. This is the first time India has used AI to support environmental regulation.[6]

National and local governments will play a key role in speeding up adoption of AI. In China’s Hubei province, the city of Yichang, for example, has partnered with a tech unicorn to roll out multiple AI applications. Its system is helping to decarbonize urban construction projects, provide early warnings in flood risk areas and more.[7]

Creating enabling policy environments is essential to scale up such models. As technology moves at breakneck speed, policymaking must match this pace and adapt to rapidly shifting contexts, to support and regulate AI effectively.

We must also understand AI’s own risks, which in addition to data privacy concerns include its climate impact. Research suggests the energy consumed to train a new algorithm is equivalent to five times the lifecycle emissions of a car[8]. So to make AI itself greener, efforts must also be made to reduce and offset algorithm emissions.[i][9]

UNDP recognizes that AI - if harnessed correctly - can be a powerful enabler of sustainable development. By working with local communities, governments, the private sector and academia around the globe, we aim to further support its role in driving climate action and restoring our natural world.

I thank our hosts, the Institute for AI International Governance at Tsinghua University, for bringing us together today. I hope the diverse mix of stakeholders and breadth of expertise present can inform the discussion and accelerate efforts to halt catastrophic climate change and save our planet for generations to come.

Xie Xie!

 

 

 

[1] Amazonia as a carbon source linked to deforestation and climate change | Nature

[2] The Arctic could be ice free by 2040 | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

[3] What impact is climate change set to have on human health? | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

[4] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-climatechange-heat-idUSKBN1KM3AJ

[5] https://www.adaptation-undp.org/three-pathways-undp-leveraging-achieve-climate-goals-digital-technology 

[6] Bringing forward actionable insights and new capabilities to tackle climate change

[7] Chinese unicorn launches environmental and social smart city tool

[8] How can artificial intelligence help the environment? | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

[9] Three pathways UNDP is leveraging to achieve climate goals with digital technology | UNDP Climate Change Adaptation (adaptation-undp.org)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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