News & Analysis

Google's AI boom drives 48% surge in emissions

3rd July 2024
Paige West

Google’s greenhouse gas emissions have surged by 48% over the past five years, largely due to the energy demands of its artificial intelligence (AI) products, which rely heavily on data centres.

In its annual environmental report, Google identified "increases in data centre energy consumption and supply chain emissions" as the main factors behind this rise, with total emissions reaching 14.3 million metric tons.

Data centres are estimated to contribute between 2.3% and 3.7% of global CO2 emissions, exceeding the aviation industry's 2.1%.

Google acknowledged in the report: "Reaching net-zero emissions by 2030 is an extremely ambitious goal and we know it won’t be easy," highlighting the complexities and unpredictability of AI's future environmental impact.

Meanwhile, last week, Microsoft’s Co-Founder Bill Gates minimised AI’s climate impact, asserting that it would ultimately be more beneficial than harmful. He also mentioned that big tech companies are "seriously willing" to invest in boosting clean energy capacity.

At the end of 2023, Google launched Gemini, positioned to rival OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4, marking Google's significant foray into the AI market. Additionally, the tech giant is integrating AI into its new Pixel phones to enhance their functionality.

John Kirk, CSO at ITG commented: “The insatiable demand for AI adoption is already fuelling a wave of increased emissions, leaving big brands open to scrutiny around their sustainability credentials. Forward thinking organisations will need to look again at the impact their operations are having on the environment and work with partners in the supply chain such as creative agencies to provide a more open and honest account of their activities. Customers now expect both accountability and a clear action plan to offset or reduce emissions, and without it, trust will be lost.”

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