Research by PwC UK estimates the economic and emissions impact of artificial intelligence (AI) adoption in the water, agriculture, energy, and transport sectors.

PwC UK’s preliminary assessment of the global economic and environmental gains that the AI era can harness was commissioned by Microsoft. How AI can enable a Sustainable Future examines the potential opportunities of AI for economic growth and emissions reduction potential between now and 2030.

The research estimates that using AI for environmental applications in the water, agriculture, energy, and transport sectors could contribute up to $5.2 trillion USD to the global economy in 2030, a 4.4 per cent increase relative to business as usual.

In parallel the application of AI levers could reduce worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 4 per cent in 2030, an amount equivalent to 2.4 Gt CO2e – equivalent to the 2030 annual emissions of Australia, Canada, and Japan combined.

At the same time as productivity improvements, AI could create 38.2 million net new jobs across the global economy by 2030, offering more technology-based skilled occupations as part of this transition.

“Put simply, AI can enable our future systems to be more productive for the economy and for nature,” said Celine Herweijer, global innovation and sustainability leader at PwC UK. “The research shows the potential of emerging technology to directly support decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions in the near and long-term.”

The report warns that for all the potential that AI for environmental systems have, its application and uses could also exacerbate existing threats or create new risks. Broader AI risks linked to bias, security, and control are all potential risks to the environment. In addition, there are substantial and wide-reaching barriers relating to these sectors that need to be overcome to realise the full potential of AI for environmental applications.

“Technology firms and industry alike will need to champion responsible technology practices, considering social, environmental impact, and long-term value creation,” Herweijer said. “What is clear is that the companies and countries that fare best will be those that embrace the simultaneous changes and reinforcing opportunities of the AI era and the transition to sustainable economies.”


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