Google’s emissions surge 48% in five years due to AI expansion

Google’s greenhouse gas emissions have soared by 48 per cent over the past five years, largely driven by its artificial intelligence (AI) products which depend heavily on energy-intensive data centres.

The company’s annual environmental report identifies ‘increases in data centre energy consumption and supply chain emissions’ as the primary contributors to this rise, with total emissions reaching 14.3 million metric tons.

Data centres are estimated to contribute between 2.3 and 3.7 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions, surpassing the global aviation industry, which accounts for 2.1 per cent. This alarming statistic underscores the significant environmental footprint of the burgeoning AI sector.

In its report, Google acknowledged the challenges ahead: ‘Reaching net-zero emissions by 2030 is an extremely ambitious goal and we know it won’t be easy,’ highlighting that the future environmental impact of AI is ‘complex and difficult to predict.’

Despite these concerns, Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, recently downplayed the climate impact of AI. He suggested that AI could be more beneficial than detrimental to the environment, emphasising that big tech companies are ‘seriously willing’ to invest in clean energy solutions.

In late 2023, Google launched Gemini, a major competitor to OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4, marking its significant foray into the AI landscape. Additionally, Google is integrating AI into its new Pixel phones to enhance their functionality.

John Kirk, Chief Sustainability Officer at ITG, remarked: “The insatiable demand for AI adoption is already fuelling a wave of increased emissions, leaving big brands open to scrutiny regarding their sustainability credentials. Forward-thinking organisations will need to reassess the environmental impact of their operations and collaborate with partners in the supply chain to provide a more transparent account of their activities. Customers now expect both accountability and a clear action plan to offset or reduce emissions, and without it, trust will be lost.”

As Google and other tech giants continue to innovate and expand their AI capabilities, they face mounting pressure to address the associated environmental costs. Balancing technological advancement with sustainability will be crucial in maintaining public trust and achieving long-term climate goals.