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  • 14 Jul, 2024

Google attributes its emissions increase to AI rather than achieving net zero.

Google attributes its emissions increase to AI rather than achieving net zero.

Google attributes its emissions growth to artificial intelligence and the increased energy demand it places on data centers.

Three years ago, Google set an ambitious target to combat climate change by achieving "net zero" emissions by 2030—meaning it would release no more climate-altering gases than it removes. However, a recent report from the company indicates it is far from reaching that objective.

Rather than decreasing, Google's emissions increased by 13 percent in 2023 compared to the previous year. Since its baseline year of 2019, emissions have surged by 48 percent. Google attributes this growth to artificial intelligence and its significant demand for energy-intensive data centers.

The generation of electricity needed to power these data centers, often through coal or natural gas combustion, emits greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, contributing to global warming and more extreme weather events.

Despite being recognized as a leader in industry commitments to climate action, Google faces criticism for not doing more to collaborate with cleaner energy providers and invest in improving the electrical grid.

Lisa Sachs, director of the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment, emphasized the urgency for technological and resource advancements to accelerate the transition to cleaner energy: "The reality is that we are falling far behind what we could achieve now with existing technology and resources."

Google's Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt acknowledged the challenges ahead in an interview with The Associated Press: "Achieving net zero by 2030 is an extremely ambitious goal. We know it won’t be easy, and our approach will need to continue evolving."

Concerns are also raised about the escalating energy demand from AI-driven data centers, which could hinder the shift towards clean electricity—an essential aspect of addressing climate change. These facilities not only consume vast amounts of energy but also necessitate significant water usage and infrastructure development.

Looking ahead, Google aims to rely entirely on carbon-free energy worldwide by 2030, with recent data showing an average of 64 percent renewable energy powering its global data centers and offices. Despite these efforts, challenges remain in aligning energy consumption with sustainable practices amidst a climate crisis that demands urgent action.