Net-zero by 2050: a pipe dream or an achievable reality?  

Saranjit Singh
31 October, 22

Climate change has quickly become the defining crisis of our time and one which we can no longer afford to ignore. However, there is a sense of hope on the horizon with recent developments which will allow industries such as public sector authorities to assist with combatting these issues. A combined sense of commitment and joint effort is the way we can fight the climate crisis and reduce the impact of emissions. Commitment to meeting net-zero targets is one of the greatest steps towards this, and it is the companies who do so that will be most influential when it comes to improving the current climate crisis and improving our futures.

Net-zero is considered critical to insulating the world against the worst effects of climate change. If achieved, it means that human CO2 emissions will no longer exceed the amount of CO2 we remove from the earth’s atmosphere. Its importance has led to governments and corporations around the world pledging to meet such targets by 2050. But are net-zero emissions possible by 2050? 

Following the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos earlier this year, it was confirmed that digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation – scaled across industries – have the power to accelerate decarbonisation efforts and can reduce emissions by up to 20%. While it is understandable why people are losing faith in the future and being impacted by eco-anxiety, these findings give us hope by uncovering how digital solutions could pave the way for achieving sustainable outcomes that align with net-zero targets. In fact, if scaled, digital solutions could be most effective at reducing emissions in the three highest emitting sectors – energy, materials and mobility.   

But to make this possibility a reality, high-emitting industry sectors must rethink their strategies to leverage efficiency, circularity and sustainability.  

The strength of digital solutions

According to estimates from the World Economic Forum, the energy sector can reduce carbon-intensive operations, and in turn emissions, by 8% when supported by digital solutions. Utilities suppliers must develop better methods for estimating how much energy is required to successfully transition to more renewable energy sources and make better use of resources. This includes systems, staff and partners and will also fill gaps with renewables.  

Machine learning is one method which can anticipate energy outputs and demands through its data analysis. These forecasts can then help industries to implement strategies for climate change efficiently, whilst reducing inefficiencies as well as carbon emissions.  

The benefits of these machine learning algorithms extend across industry verticals as they can be used in any business. This results in more accurate supply and demand forecasting, contributing to significant cuts in manufacturing and transportation waste with an improved level of understanding when it comes to what’s needed and when. Suggestions for low-carbon items can also drive ecologically responsible purchases by assisting with the optimisation of power usage and avoiding unnecessary waste and storage.  

Intelligent automation (IA) solutions can also improve sustainability in vital industries, such as manufacturing, infrastructure and data centers. We’re seeing organisations reduce emissions by employing data automation and modeling to digitise and analyse processes and develop predictive maintenance and monitoring capabilities.   

Although IA algorithms that anticipate energy consumption already exist, we think there is room for improvement to ensure they can keep up with the multiple sources of energy production today and the need to meet new and evolving regulatory and measurement requirements. Complex algorithmic features also need fine-tuning to be able to react to changing trends or behaviors, and to expand beyond the industrial level to cater to family and individual demands.   

One-stop digital solutions such as IA not only boost efficiency and production, but they also enable the development of new procedures that reduce power consumption and harmful emissions, directly and immediately contributing to the fight against climate change.  

 AI-supported waste reduction

The power of artificial intelligence (AI) leads also to how it can support climate action, by reducing waste in all forms, whether this is financial, temporal or material. There is a problem, however, in how fragmented the approach to AI can be, even with firms that use a high level of automation. The result is transformation becoming stifled, wasting valuable time as well as staff resources. It also generates “technical debt”, a term which refers to the costs arising from organisational reworks. These are needed due to sub-optimal solutions being originally chosen for short-term and fast results.  

Organisations need to reimagine their existing strategies and use varied yet complementary technologies that work together, rather than in isolation, to maximise efficiency and reduce waste. AI-managed energy systems can then identify the appropriate amount of energy consumption needed at any one time. These insights support the fight against climate change by minimising energy waste, simplifying processes and maximising productivity by creating efficient and unified workflows.  

From innovation to climate action  

The future ahead may be rife with daunting uncertainty, but there are still limitless opportunities to generate innovative technologies that drive forward climate goals. Only five years ago, a company’s intelligent automation objectives often outstripped the capabilities of available technology. The market hype around advanced technologies didn’t deliver the promised business results. Since then, automation technology has progressed significantly, as billions of dollars have been invested in research and development. The prioritisation of generating digital solutions in this sector, including the use of process analysis and predictive maintenance to reduce energy waste, has done much to accelerate the journey to reaching net-zero.  

It is through AI-enhanced digital solutions that both individuals and businesses can be helped to understand their carbon footprint, with the development of tools also showing them how to improve it. It has become clear that there is huge potential with the use of digital solutions when looking at work like the World Bee Project. With this, technology and science have both been used to enhance the wellbeing of bees and other pollinators in what is seen as a revolutionary project. The creation of the world’s first global bee database is the outcome, with the collection of data intelligence from colonies being monitored around the world. Here, sensors track activity, capturing and combining data points including humidity, hive temperature, pollinator decline and deficiencies. This data is then used to assist with the creation of solutions to help ensure a healthy ecosystem.

We can now look to digital solutions as an answer for the prevention of the unnecessary damage that is being caused by the climate crisis. These solutions present a path towards the achievement of net-zero. Such targets as these will be reached faster by the reduction in waste and simplified work processes that will be supervised by the continued use of digital solutions. This will then lead the way towards a more reassuring and sustainable future for all.


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