Google’s CO2 emissions explode due to artificial intelligence

Published on Tuesday, July 2, Google’s latest environmental report casts serious doubt on the Californian group’s ability to achieve the climate objective it set in 2019: zero net emissions by 2030.

This document reveals that CO emissions2 Google’s emissions increased by 13% last year and by 48% overall in five years, reaching 14.3 million tonnes of carbon equivalent in 2023, reports the Financial Times. “This result is mainly due to the increase in electricity consumption in our data centers,” writes Google – these data centers which notably power the new generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools.

“As we further integrate AI into our products, reducing our emissions may prove challenging due to the increasing energy requirements from the increased computing intensity of AI,” explains the Mountain View, California-based company.

According to Kate Brandt, Google’s director of sustainability, the group intends to maintain its initial decarbonization target, while now estimating it “very ambitious” taking into account “uncertainty about the future environmental impacts of AI, which are complex and difficult to predict.”

A growth strategy at all costs

In May, Microsoft also admitted that its CO emissions2 had increased by almost a third since 2020, largely due to the construction of new data centers.

According to Sasha Luccioni, climate lead at artificial intelligence startup Hugging Face, tech companies failed to anticipate the rapid growth of AI when setting their environmental goals. “They were caught off guard both by the amount of energy it would take to develop such technology and by the amount of energy it would take to make it work.”

The International Energy Agency estimates that total data center electricity consumption could double from 2022 levels to reach 1,000 terawatt hours by 2026, “roughly the same level of electricity demand as a country like Japan,” precise The Guardian.

The dramatic increase in energy demand due to the strategy of “growth at all costs” Silicon Valley companies in AI “threatens to upend the energy transition of entire countries, as well as the clean energy goals of billion-dollar technology companies,” underlines Bloomberg.

In Saudi Arabia, Ireland and Malaysia, for example, the energy needed to operate the data centres planned to be built at full capacity will exceed the available supply of renewable energy, explains the American media.

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