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COP28 sets eyes on AI to fight climate change

By JAN YUMUL in Dubai, UAE | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-11 07:15

OPEC's Secretary General Haitham Al Ghais talks to the media during the "Special Day – OPEC and the youth" event at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 10, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

UN panel launches challenge to deploy tech to support developing countries

Expect artificial intelligence to play an inseparable role in combating climate change after the United Nations Climate Change Technology Executive Committee, or TEC, and its collaborators launched a challenge to harness AI-powered solutions for climate action in developing countries.

The grand challenge was part of a high-level event organized by the UN Climate Change Technology Mechanism on Saturday in Dubai, in collaboration with the COP28 Presidency. The move will also focus on least developed countries and small island developing states. The TEC has partnered with Enterprise Neurosystem, a nonprofit open-source AI community.

Attendees, ranging from leaders to UN agencies and business communities, emphasized how AI can be used in transformational climate action in developing nations while at the same time ensuring it does not contribute to the widening digital divide because of unequal access to technology.

Omar Sultan Al Olama, the minister of state for artificial intelligence, digital economy, and remote work applications in the United Arab Emirates, said that harnessing AI, as a strategic asset to mitigate climate change involved integrating it into national policies and plans.

"These measures and policies should not be viewed in isolation, but rather as a unified global initiative, acknowledging that climate change transcends geographical boundaries and requires concerted global efforts," Al Olama said.

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell said that the world has been seeing increasing evidence that AI can prove "an invaluable instrument in tackling climate change".

"While we remain mindful of the associated challenges and risks of AI, the Innovation Grand Challenge is a promising step forward in harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and empowering innovators in developing countries," said Stiell.

Digital divide

In dealing with the existing digital divide, Senegal's Minister of Communications, Telecommunications and the Digital Economy Moussa Bocar Thiam said the integration of chatbot voice with local languages in emerging technology tools could be one of the solutions to fix the gap.

Shantal Munro-Knight, the minister in the prime minister's office of Barbados, said they were partnering with international tech companies to test their ideas in the country while contributing to the island's development.

These ideas include using machine learning and AI to check for the presence of tropical diseases.

"Collaboration, training and technology transfer are key to ensuring that AI contributes effectively to climate mitigation and adaptation for small island developing states," she said.

The high-level event was organized under the Technology Mechanism Initiative on Artificial Intelligence for Climate Action. It is also in line with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call to develop AI that is reliable and safe and that could supercharge climate action.

"We must manage the risks and seize the promise of artificial intelligence," said Ali Zaidi, an assistant to the president and national climate adviser of the United States.

"By working together, we can responsibly harness the power of this emerging technology to develop AI tools that help mitigate climate change risks, make our communities more sustainable and resilient, and build an equitable clean energy future for all," he added.

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