CLIMATE GOALS

Google Environmental Report 2024: AI as an extreme CO2 emitter

Google Umweltbericht 2024: “Ein Rechenzentrum von Google ist im Durchschnitt etwa 1,8-mal so energieeffizient als ein typisches Unternehmensrechenzentrum." © Canva
Google Environmental Report 2024 © Canva
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Artificial intelligence is making it harder for companies to achieve their climate goals. According to its latest 2024 environmental report, Google’s greenhouse gas emissions have skyrocketed. This is despite the tech giant’s goal of halving its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 2019.

Priority artificial intelligence

Since last year, Google has been continuously launching new AI applications – from Bart to Gemini – and giving them high priority. Generative AI has not only been built into search but also into numerous other products in the Google suite. Now, for the first time, data shows that AI is making it more difficult for companies to achieve their climate goals.

If you take a look at total greenhouse gas emissions, you can see that they have increased by 48 percent since 2019. In 2023, Google released a total of 14.3 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is roughly the amount that 38 gas-fired power plants release in a year. CO2 emissions have thus increased by 13 percent compared to the previous year. Microsoft also produced around 30 percent more greenhouse gas emissions in 2023 than in 2020.

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Enormous energy consumption by AI data centers

Google’s environmental report states that the emissions caused, and which have increased sharply, are largely due to the energy consumption of data centers. The second main cause is CO2 production through the supply chain. As reported, data centers for the calculations and data storage of generative AI consume enormous amounts of energy and millions of liters of water. The ones used to train AI consume the most. Google’s electricity consumption has increased so much that its carbon footprint has increased by almost a million tons. This makes it the largest source of Google’s additional emissions last year.

Challenges inevitable

“As we continue to integrate AI into our products, reducing emissions could be challenging due to increasing energy demands from the higher intensity of AI computations and emissions associated with expected higher investments in our technical infrastructure,” the report says. According to Google’s own estimates, its data centers will account for up to 10 percent of the global electricity consumption of all data centers by 2023. This trend will continue in the future, the environmental report says.

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Google’s plan for more energy efficiency

Despite the sharp increase in its greenhouse gas emissions, Google says it wants to keep its impact on the environment as low as possible. It plans to make its own AI models, hardware and data centers more energy efficient. Another Google goal is to supply every power grid from which it draws energy with renewable energy 24/7 by 2030. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), data centers currently consume around 1 percent of the world’s electricity. By 2026, electricity consumption is expected to increase tenfold compared to 2023.

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