Using Emerging Technologies to Fight Climate Change

Kirsten Long

The United Nations Environment Assembly is the world’s highest-level decision maker when it comes to the environment. The most recent UN Environment Report calls on cities, local governments and the private sector to work together to use emerging technologies in the fight against climate change. We decided to take a look at what is being used today to help develop the solutions that will be an important part of addressing the impacts of global warming on our planet.

While the climate change dilemma seems daunting, our research suggests that there are a number of exciting technologies that could help prevent further damage to the environment.

• Big Data – this is the collection, as well as the processing of data that can provide useful information. In the workplace big data is used to help executives make important decisions. So how can it apply to climate change? According to the World Economic Forum, thanks to analyzing big data, we know that the planet lost the equivalent of 40 football fields per minute in 2017 in tree cover. When we understand the extent and source of problems, we can then begin to address those issues. With big data we can locate harmful emissions or identify pressure points along the supply chain. California has been working for a couple of years now to launch a satellite that can detect the source point of pollutants. Meanwhile, Google has been using big data to estimate greenhouse gases in different cities. It is believed that big data can go a long way in helping cities develop effective climate action plans.

• 3D Printing – this is a process that builds a three-dimensional object from a computer design model. It provides a way for manufacturing to reduce carbon emissions and offers creative solutions for disaster-prone areas. Advanced 3D printing can involve recycled materials thus diverting waste from landfills. As an example, there is a massive steel pedestrian bridge in the Dutch province of Brabant that was built using 3D printing. It has been suggested that in the near future, the construction industry will have a more positive impact on the environment by helping to minimize waste through the use of 3D printing.

• Artificial Intelligence – AI is a term that describes a computer system that can think, learn, and act in response to programmed objectives. The World Economic Forum has stated in their paper “Harnessing Artificial Intelligence for the Earth” that AI can improve energy efficiency. This is done by incorporating data from smart meters, which can then help estimate energy demand. This will help utilities optimize their energy production in a way that can reduce their impact on climate. IBM is an example of a company that has embraced the concept of artificial intelligence. The company has developed a programme to help cities plan for future heat waves and is deeply involved in developing new AI applications to address global warming concerns.

• Virtual Reality – this is a simulated experience that is similar to the real world. It can be a powerful way to highlight the impacts of climate change. Cities can use virtual reality to help them pinpoint climate adaptation priorities. The technology is being used in California to allow people to visualize the effects of global warming. At some point 3D models will be used to create adaptation solutions. Cities around the world can use mixed reality technology to visualize climate problems and solutions. In other words, to make better decisions about how to fight climate change.

There is no one solution to the climate change problem and there is no one emerging technology that can rescue the planet. Citizens, industry and decision-makers must work together to promote a healthier environment, as well as promote the development and application of emerging technologies.