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How Can AI Be Used To Move The Needle On Climate Change

In July 2022, the Boston Consulting Group released a report on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to combat climate change. Eighty-seven percent of the respondents said they believed that advanced analytics and AI are helpful tools in the fight against climate change. For those in the private sector, 67% said they wanted governments to do more to support the use of AI in fighting climate change.

From companies using satellite data to monitor deforestation to new climate change incubators, the private and entrepreneurial markets are tackling climate change differently.

Satellite data and AI algorithms

Colin McCormick, Chief Innovation Officer at Carbon Direct, said satellite data has been used for several years to monitor deforestation events (mainly through Global Forest Watch/GFW).

“An important recent advance is newly available satellite data, particularly from the GEDI lidar instrument that can be processed with advanced AI algorithms to go beyond basic deforestation alerts,” said McCormick in an email interview.

“This approach makes it possible to quantify the actual amount of carbon that forests are absorbing from the air,” McCormick adds. “This data is at very high spatial resolution (patches as small as 10 meters), which makes it possible to monitor actual carbon removal from specific carbon dioxide removal forestry projects that have issued credits.”

McCormick says they are seeing excellent applications of AI to anticipate possible deforestation/illegal logging before it happens. This includes training AI models to detect newly cut forest roads in satellite imagery and leveraging data from on-the-ground acoustic monitors to detect the sound of chainsaws and other logging equipment.

“Washington State is starting to use drones to anticipate fires before they occur,” said McCormick. “They are also using on-ground monitoring systems to move resources close to high-risk areas, similar to how militaries move troops to key battlegrounds.”

But unlike satellite data, which shows deforestation after the fact, a project in Brazil known as the Curupira Project detects destruction before it starts.

Researchers from the State University of Amazonas (UEA) developed AI boxes to combat forest deforestation in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil. The team installed AI boxes on trees to identify the sounds of machinery used to deforest the forest and issue real-time alerts via a long-range communication network.

Climate tech incubators & funds

New York-based Montauk Climate is a new climate tech incubator focused on developing early-stage startups to tackle infrastructure tech, grid edge and electrification, clean energy, and other climate tech solutions.

The incubator has raised $8.5 million in funding.

The incubator says it’s dedicated to building high-impact technology companies focused on a sustainable, electrified and digitized future.

“The capital and incentives needed to move our economy into a clean energy future are finally here, and Montauk Climate is positioned to create companies that address the urgent challenges of climate-related impacts,” said Evan Caron, co-founder and CIO at Montauk Climate, in a press statement. “We recognize that fundamental change in energy and infrastructure systems requires a completely new approach to how we innovate in this category. It demands committed capital, policy changes and multi-stakeholder cooperation.”

Caron says the incubator is an organization to build companies to support a sustainable future.

World Fund, a Berlin-based VC fund focused exclusively on climate technology, raised €300 million in March 2024. Investors include EIF, KfW Capital, BPI France, PwC Germany, Wiltshire Pension Fund, the UK Environment Agency Pension Fund, Croatia’s Erste Plavi, and their first Ecosia.

The World Fund was founded in 2021 and invests in startups developing technology to decarbonize the energy, buildings, transport and agriculture industries.

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