Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity, and we, as machine learning experts, may wonder how we can help. Here we describe how machine learning can be a powerful tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping society adapt to a changing climate. From smart grids to disaster management, we identify high impact problems where existing gaps can be filled by machine learning, in collaboration with other fields. Our recommendations encompass exciting research questions as well as promising business opportunities. We call on the machine learning community to join the global effort against climate change.

The effects of climate change are increasingly visible. Storms, droughts, fires, and flooding have become stronger and more frequent. Global ecosystems are changing, including the natural resources and agriculture on which humanity depends. The 2018 intergovernmental report on climate change estimated that the world will face catastrophic consequences unless global greenhouse gas emissions are eliminated within thirty years. Yet year after year, these emissions rise. Addressing climate change involves mitigation (reducing emissions) and adaptation (preparing for unavoidable consequences). Both are multifaceted issues. Mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions requires changes to electricity systems, transportation, buildings, industry, and land use. Adaptation requires planning for resilience and disaster management, given an understanding of climate and extreme events. Such a diversity of problems can be seen as an opportunity: there are many ways to have an impact.

In recent years, machine learning (ML) has been recognized as a broadly powerful tool for technological progress. Despite the growth of movements applying ML and AI to problems of societal and global good, there remains the need for a concerted effort to identify how these tools may best be applied to tackle climate change. Many ML practitioners wish to act, but are uncertain how. On the other side, many fields have begun actively seeking input from the ML community. This paper aims to provide an overview of where machine learning can be applied with high impact in the fight against climate change, through either effective engineering or innovative research. The strategies we highlight include climate mitigation and adaptation, as well as meta-level tools that enable other strategies. In order to maximize the relevance of our recommendations, we have consulted experts across many fields (see Acknowledgments) in the preparation of this paper.

Source: Rolnick et al. 2019. Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning. Cornell University. 

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Header image: Aoteroaai - AI Summit

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