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Google’s Battle with Carbon Emissions

Google’s increased reliance on energy-hungry data centres to power its new artificial intelligence (AI) products has resulted in a 48% rise in the company’s carbon emissions in five years.

This week, the tech giant’s annual environmental report revealed that while the company is on “an ambitious journey to help build a more sustainable future”, it has fallen short of its climate goals, with its emissions in 2023 having risen 13% on the previous year, reaching 14.3 million metric tons.

It pins the reason for this rise on “increases in data centre energy consumption and supply chain emissions”.

AI Models

Data centres play a crucial role in training and operating the models that underpin AI models such as Google’s Gemini, which was released by Google in 2023 as a competitor to OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4.

To do this, data centres consume huge amounts of energy – a significant proportion of which is used to cool the enormous amount of waste heat generated during computation. They also require high-voltage transmission lines and significant amounts of water, which are stored in cooling towers.

According to a report published earlier this year by the International Energy Agency, data centres’ total electricity consumption will rise from 460TWh in 2022 to more than 1,000TWh in 2026. This demand is roughly equivalent to the electricity consumption of Japan.

Net Zero Targets

My Climate, a Swiss climate protection organisation, estimates that data centres contribute between 2.3% and 3.7% of the world’s CO2 emissions, equivalent to the emissions of the entire aviation industry.

AI is also contributing to the Google’s falling short of its net zero climate target, which it set in 2019. Since that time, its emissions have risen by 48%.

In the report, Google said that “reaching net zero emissions by 2030 is an extremely ambitious goal and we know it won’t be easy”, saying that the future of AI and its environmental impact is “complex and difficult to predict”.


However, Google also revealed that as its electricity consumption grows, so will its use of renewable power. For instance, one of the initiatives highlighted is the contracts signed to “purchase approximately 4GW of clean energy generation capacity, 11 in locations such as Texas, Belgium and Australia — more than in any prior year”.

However, while electricity may be coming from clean sources, it still doesn’t cancel out the fact that the demand for AI is fuelling a rise of increased carbon emissions. This is leaving big brands such as Google open to public scrutiny around their sustainability credentials.

Talking to Associated Press, Lisa Sachs, director of the Columbia Centre on Sustainable Investment, said Google is not going far enough. She argues that the firm should be doing more to partner with cleaner companies and invest in the electrical grid.

She said: “The reality is that we are far behind what we could already be doing now with the technology that we have, with the resources that we have, in terms of advancing the transition.”


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