The world’s internet addiction has environmental implications, from the energy used to manufacture smartphones to the fact that even emails emit carbon dioxide. The technology industry accounts for about 2% to 3% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, data centres mining for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin consumed up to 0.3 per cent of the world’s electricity, roughly equivalent to Belgium.

According to a report by the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations entity, digital technology might significantly minimize global carbon emissions by roughly 17%. Artificial intelligence, for example, according to industry insiders, might help make electric transmission systems more effective. Concerned citizens may be able to trace industrial carbon emissions via blockchain technology. Furthermore, satellites can be used to better monitor environmental changes, such as unlawful logging, mining, and garbage dumping, whether at sea or on land.

However, according to UNEP experts, using standardized standards to quantify the impact of technology on the environment is critical to reducing the negative implications of digitalization. European countries agreed to support “clean digital technology” in a pact. Countries pledged to create 5G and 6G networks, as well as support blockchain, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence, all of which they hailed as potential game-changers in the fight against global warming.

Could digital technology, on the other hand, be part of the answer as well as the issue when it comes to climate change? There are five ways that technology could help to mitigate the impact:

Artificial Intelligence

Countries are developing a blueprint for using artificial intelligence (AI) to combat climate change as one of the many things on the COP26 agenda. AI is based on high-powered computers performing sophisticated computations that use a lot of energy. According to University of Massachusetts researchers, training a single AI algorithm system can utilize nearly 5 times the emissions created by a car over its lifetime.

However, AI is already assisting in the energy efficiency of a broad variety of industrial operations by performing calculations that humans cannot. According to PwC, increased AI use in four key areas of the economy, including agriculture and transportation, could reduce global emissions by 4%. Artificial intelligence, according to Peter Clutton Brock, co-founder of the Centre for AI & Climate, isn’t “a silver bullet” for reversing climate change. “However, there are some really intriguing uses on the horizon,” he remarked. These include analyzing data on deforestation and melting sea ice with artificial intelligence to better predict which places would be affected next.

Apps and Search Engines

Although sceptics may argue that a single person can only have a little impact, eco-conscious people have a variety of apps at their disposal to track their personal carbon footprints. Various apps calculate the amount of pollution caused by a vehicle or aircraft travel, while others allow customers to scan things and get information about how environmentally friendly they are. Google announced changes to its search capabilities that will offer drivers the most energy-efficient paths and highlight flight emissions data. Meanwhile, the search engine Ecosia utilizes ad revenue to fund reforestation, with more than 135 million trees planted so far.

Remote Work

Is it true that the transition to remote work during the epidemic was beneficial to the environment? According to analysts, the situation is still uncertain. As most of the world dug down last year, the massive decline in commuting was welcomed as a contributing to a drop in global emissions. However, signing in online still requires employees to consume energy at home, and heating individual homes are less effective than heating a single workplace for an entire team in the winter.

According to the International Energy Agency, if all white-collar workers stayed at home for one day a week, worldwide outflows could be reduced by 24 million tonnes, about equaling London’s annual emissions. According to the IEA, workers with long automobile commutes might significantly reduce their carbon footprint by remaining at home. However, it was discovered that drivers who commute less than 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) each day may potentially consume more energy by staying at home with the heaters on.

Cloud Computing

For years, it was feared that the internet’s massive, energy-guzzling data centres would become a leading cause of climate change. However, according to a study published in the journal Science last year, these fears haven’t materialized as a result of unexpected efficiency gains. Despite the rising demand for data storage, data centres only consumed roughly 1% of the world’s electricity in 2018. This is partly due to the desire of IT companies to reduce their electricity bills. For example, Google employed AI to cut the cost of cooling its data centres by 40%.

Smart Cities

According to the United Nations, cities are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With the world’s population expected to become increasingly urban, creating energy-efficient cities is a primary goal. The Internet of Things (IoT) is already being utilized in urban planning to connect things with sensors that can communicate and make intelligent decisions. For example, in a pilot project in Amsterdam, IoT was used to direct vehicles to available parking spaces, saving time wasted driving around the city looking for one.

In the coming years, it will be critical for nations to embrace the power of technology while still preserving their citizens’ rights. We are at a critical juncture in human history. Decisions we make now about environmental concerns and digital technology regulation will trigger a cascade of reactions that will define the course of life on this planet.