Tech Sector’s Role in Fighting Climate Crisis: AI Solutions for Environmental Justice
Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, but its impact is not evenly distributed. Communities that are marginalized due to race, ethnicity, religion, and poverty often bear the brunt of environmental degradation in both developed and developing countries. These vulnerable communities already face systemic inequalities, such as water scarcity and higher exposure to pollution and extreme weather events, which are only exacerbated by the climate crisis.
My personal experience growing up on Dominica, a small Caribbean island state prone to hurricanes, has shown me firsthand the devastating effects of climate-related disasters. One single tropical storm has the power to devastate power grids and wipe out entire harvests, destroying local livelihoods.
According to the World Bank, climate-related disasters push 26 million people into poverty each year. The world’s poorest people, who heavily rely on agriculture for their survival, urgently need access to technical, financial, and institutional resources to adapt to and confront increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events.
The technology sector, with its capacity for innovation, can play a crucial role in developing the tools we need to understand, mitigate, and even reverse the damaging effects of global warming. Addressing long-standing environmental injustices requires tech companies to arm those on the frontline of the climate crisis with the newest and most effective technologies.
Artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, in particular, have the potential to provide unprecedented access to accurate information and prediction, empowering communities to learn from and adapt to climate challenges in real-time. The IBM Sustainability Accelerator, launched in 2022, is a leading initiative in this area, supporting projects like the Deltares Aquality App. This AI-powered tool helps farmers assess and improve water quality, enabling them to grow crops more sustainably, prevent runoff pollution, and protect biodiversity.
Smallholder farmers face numerous challenges, including rising costs, difficulty competing with larger producers, and the adverse effects of climate change on biodiversity and weather patterns. Access to accurate information, especially about soil conditions and water availability, can help farmers address these challenges more effectively. However, historically, obtaining such information has been challenging.
By deploying machine learning algorithms that forecast future population growth and corresponding changes in energy demand using temporal and spatial data, policymakers in developing countries can optimize their energy networks. This AI-powered forecasting model can ensure that energy supply is redirected to where it is most needed, thereby addressing the energy needs of growing populations.
Developing AI-powered mobile apps and virtual assistants and making them widely available promotes equitable access to data and technical insights. By harnessing the power of highly accurate weather forecasting, advanced agronomy techniques, carbon-footprint calculations, and other AI-generated predictions, smallholder farmers can enhance their climate resilience, increase production, and boost their income by adapting to changing conditions and managing their crops more sustainably.
However, it is essential to acknowledge that simply providing these tools to disadvantaged communities will not solve the problem. Apps alone cannot be the antidote to climate injustice. Tech companies must be willing to share knowledge and instructions for obtaining relevant data, enabling users to collaborate independently and seek feedback from farmers and other users. An AI chatbot that automates question-and-answer exchanges can minimize user-training challenges while democratizing access to relevant information. It is crucial to support local tech firms and app developers in utilizing these AI tools effectively.
Beyond providing access to new AI-powered tools, the tech community, in collaboration with NGOs, governments, and international agencies, must also focus on training individuals in the technical skills and knowledge required for green jobs. As the world transitions to a low-carbon global economy, the demand for green skills will surpass supply. Preparing workers for future jobs, combined with widespread adoption of new technologies, will strengthen climate resilience, particularly in developing economies.
Addressing environmental threats requires the collective effort of individuals, corporations, organizations, and governments. Tech firms, in particular, must allocate more resources to combat global warming. This means investing in the development and implementation of AI tools and ensuring that those who are most in need can access them. Finding climate solutions and achieving environmental justice depends on the private sector mobilizing its expertise for the greater good.