AI And the Climate Crisis: Rethinking the Relationship Between Artificial Intelligence and the Planet

Benedetta Brevini

University of Sydney

The Covid-19 global pandemic, the recent Climate Emergency warnings coming from the IPCC panels have underscored the need to rethink what type of economy and society we want to build as we face the worsening climate emergency. The New Climate Economy Report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate [1] calculates that bold Green Recovery plans could deliver 26 trillion USD in net global economic benefits in the next decade. Europe is leading the way in developing strategies for a Green Recovery. The European Commission proposed a major recovery plan for Europe on 26 May 2020, approved by the European Council on 21 July 2020. Alongside the recovery package, EU leaders agreed on a €1 074.3 billion long-term EU budget for 2021-2027. Among others, the budget will support investment in the digital and green transitions and resilience.

While this unfolds, it is increasingly clear that the rapidly expanding applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be central to the strategic investments: technological innovations and digital services are at the core of recovery with the potential to create millions of jobs and boost economies devastated by the pandemic. Debates on Green Recovery plans and AI developments in Europe are both gathering momentum, but are often disconnected and taking place in two very distinct policy arenas.

This talk aims to bridge this disconnect by highlighting how can we best understand the relationship between AI and the Climate Emergency.  In order to do so, Benedetta Brevini asks us to think about AI in a different, and more material way than most of us have in the past.

In all its variety of forms, AI relies on large swathes of land and sea, vast arrays of technology, and greenhouse gas emitting machines and infrastructures that deplete scarce resources in their production, consumption and disposal. AI also relies on data centres that demand excessive amounts of energy, water and finite resources to compute, analyse and categorize.

If we want to bring the climate crisis to the centre of debates around AI developments, Brevini argues, then we need first to understand the environmental costs of AI for the planet.

[1] For more details, see the 2018 Report of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate available at