Artificial intelligence technologies have a climate cost


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AI

Mains level : Paper 3- Climate cost of AI


While there is an allure to national dreams of economic prosperity and global competitiveness, underwritten by AI, there is an environmental cost.

Issues with AI

  • Unfair race for dominance in AI:  A few developed economies possess certain material advantages right from the start, they also set the rules.
  • They have an advantage in research and development, and possess a skilled workforce as well as wealth to invest in AI.
  • Inequality in terms of governance: We can also look at the state of inequity in AI in terms of governance: How “tech fluent” are policymakers in developing and underdeveloped countries?
  • What barriers do they face in crafting regulations and industrial policy?
  • At the same time, there is an emerging challenge at the nexus of AI and climate change that could deepen this inequity.

Climate impact of AI

  • The climate impact of AI comes in a few forms: The energy use of training and operating large AI models is one.
  •  In 2020, digital technologies accounted for between 1.8 per cent and 6.3 per cent of global emissions.
  •  In November 2021, UNESCO adopted the  In November 2021, UNESCO adopted the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, calling on actors to “reduce the environmental impact of AI systems, including but not limited to its carbon footprint.” , calling on actors to “reduce the environmental impact of AI systems, including but not limited to its carbon footprint.”

Inequitable access to resources

  • Both global AI governance and climate change policy (historically) are contentious, being rooted in inequitable access to resources.
  • Developing and underdeveloped countries face a challenge on two fronts:
  • 1] AI’s social and economic benefits are accruing to a few countries.
  • 2] Most of the current efforts and narratives on the relationship between AI and climate impact are being driven by the developed West.

Way forward

  • Assess technology-led priorities: Governments of developing countries, India included, should also assess their technology-led growth priorities in the context of AI’s climate costs.
  •  It is argued that as developing nations are not plagued by legacy infrastructure it would be easier for them to “build up better”.

Consider the question “How Artificial Intelligence technologies could transform the world as we know it? What are the concerns with it?


It may be worth thinking through what “solutions” would truly work for the unique social and economic contexts of the communities in our global village.

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