Emerging Technologies

4 ways AI can super-charge sustainable development

AI can help provide analytics for biodiversity projects on coral reefs.

AI can help provide analytics for biodiversity projects on coral reefs. Image: Francesco Ungaro/Pexels

Claudia Ukonu
Growth Lead, Uplink, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: AI Governance Summit
  • AI's unparalleled data-harnessing abilities allow it to be an invaluable tool for sustainable development.
  • It will underpin new solutions in the sector, and allow green investors to assess climate risks.
  • AI can also help measure progress on sustainable development and help win society at large round to the cause.

In a dynamic era marked by relentless change, the intersection of AI and sustainable development stands as a beacon of hope, poised to redefine our collective response to urgent global challenges. With mounting environmental concerns, the call to accelerate our path to sustainable development becomes more urgent. At this crucial moment, we view AI not merely as a technological marvel, but as a powerful force sparking positive transformation.

The potential of AI lies in its ability to harness data, optimize processes and kindle innovation, propelling it to become an indispensable cornerstone in our shared quest for global progress. As we stand at the nexus of innovation and sustainability, the urgency to act is building, in order to move towards a future marked by resilience, sustainability and shared prosperity.

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1. Innovation: igniting a new wave of solutions

"50% of the carbon reductions needed to get to net zero will come from technologies that have not yet been invented," remarks John Kerry. Beyond carbon reductions, the pivotal role of innovation, especially within early-stage startups, is crucial for addressing all 17 sustainable development goals. Although AI adoption is on the rise, addressing challenges that these ventures face, such as lack of funding and access to decision-makers, is imperative.

  • Stream Ocean: Addressing the least funded SDG, life below water (SDG 14), Stream Ocean (formerly Nature Counts Foundation) deploys AI and machine learning for real-time monitoring of marine biodiversity through underwater video cameras. This technology aids coral restoration projects by providing advanced ocean data analytics, including biodiversity metrics, in real time.
  • Pano AI: Using AI to detect, verify and classify wildfire events in real time, Pano AI contributes to global resilience against the increasing frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters caused by forest fires.
  • NatureDots: Leveraging AI for remote, real-time monitoring of aquafarms, NatureDots aims to revolutionize aquaculture-based food chains by ensuring the health of fisheries.

2. Sustainable finance: navigating climate risks with AI

Over the past 50 years, weather-related disasters have surged, with 2023 standing out as the hottest year on record. Amid global financial challenges, investors are seeking ways to assess climate risk exposure in their portfolios. AI-powered tools stand out as invaluable instruments for analyzing vast datasets, including climate and financial data, to identify climate risks and investment opportunities.

Financial institutions leading the way include:

  • BlackRock: Integrating AI algorithms to measure and track the carbon footprint of investments, BlackRock as part of its commitment to sustainable finance employs the AI tool Aladdin Climate to quantify climate risks and opportunities in financial terms.
  • Asian Development Bank: Launching the Artificial Intelligence and Digitalization Fund, the Asian Development Bank aims to enhance energy security in developing member countries and combat climate change through increased adoption of clean energy.

3. Impact Management & Measurement (IMM): ensuring accountability and transparency

Establishing methods to track and report progress is vital for achieving our development goals. Impact measurement, vital for accountability, provides a transparent means to assess whether stated objectives are being achieved. Stakeholders, including investors, governments and communities, leverage impact measurement, and the integration of AI to further enhance the precision and efficiency of these assessments.

Leaders in impact measurement:

  • European Commission (EC): Actively employing IMM frameworks, the EC tracks and measures the impact and progress related to SDG 6, specifically focusing on access to clean water and improved sanitation facilities.
  • Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN): Collaborating with financial institutions and impact investors, GIIN promotes the use of AI in impact measurement, ensuring that investments align with sustainable development objectives.
The market for AI tools is rapidly expanding.
The market for AI tools is rapidly expanding. Image: McKinsey

4. Shifting perceptions: AI's transformative role

The 2023 State of AI report by McKinsey projects a staggering $1.87 trillion global AI market by 2032, highlighting the urgent need for intensified efforts. Beyond operational efficiency, AI emerges as a powerful catalyst for reshaping how society views sustainability. It fosters trust and propels innovation, becoming a pivotal force in directing our collective path toward a sustainable future.

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How is the World Economic Forum creating guardrails for Artificial Intelligence?

In the fusion of AI and sustainable development, we find a hopeful path forward. It's where innovation, smart financial moves, detailed impact measurements, and shifts in how society perceives sustainability come together to carve out a future that's both enduring and promising for generations. This journey transcends technology; it's about the collective choices we make today echoing through time, shaping our planet's trajectory and influencing the well-being of its inhabitants. In witnessing the unfolding transformative capabilities of AI, we're reminded that today's actions lay the foundation for a future where sustainability isn't just a goal, but an integral part of our shared human legacy.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Emerging TechnologiesSustainable Development
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