How AI could accelerate net zero, Poland boosts climate education, and more

By on 14/05/2024 | Updated on 14/05/2024
Image: Pixabay

Welcome to this month’s Global Government Forum Sustainability Monitor, bringing you the latest government-related news on this topic from around the world

We want these newsletters to provide insight on the work of government and we always want to hear from you, so please get in touch to let us know about your challenges and how you’re addressing them.

Sarah Wray
Editor, Global Government Forum

In this edition:

How AI could transform energy infrastructure and accelerate net zero

Artificial intelligence (AI) could be transformational in helping the US to transform its energy infrastructure and meet net zero goals by 2050, according to a new report.

Behind the report: The AI for Energy report was produced by multiple federally funded national research centres which operate under the Department of Energy, including Argonne National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and National Energy Technology Laboratory. Around 100 experts from the fields of AI, machine learning and energy met for two days in December 2023. Attendees then worked together for several months to create the report, which is described as “groundbreaking” and offers a framework for how the Department of Energy can use AI.

AI opportunity: The report highlights how AI has the potential to accelerate clean energy development, cut costs, enhance grid reliability and security, optimise operations, and improve disaster response. According to the authors, AI could reduce the cost to design, licence, deploy, operate and maintain energy infrastructure by hundreds of billions of dollars.

Grand challenges: The report identifies ‘grand challenges’ across five areas of US energy infrastructure: nuclear power, the power grid, carbon management, energy storage and energy materials. Three common needs emerged across these challenges. The first is the need for quick and reliable computer-aided design and testing of materials and systems. The second is the need to improve scientists’ ability to pinpoint uncertainties in their predictions and how systems will perform. The third is the need for AI to integrate data from multiple sources and formats.

Action needed: To achieve AI’s potential in energy, the report highlights key developments that are needed. It says the laboratories must establish a “leadership computing ecosystem” to train and host data and foundation models at ever-increasing scales. Fine-tuned models also need to be developed for each domain that are coupled, where possible, with ground-truth data and scientific principles. Although the laboratories have hundreds of petabytes’ worth of data, only small amounts of this data are catalogued, warehoused and ready for AI model ingestion, the report notes. Curation of ‘ground-truth data’ coupled with energy industry data is deemed essential to building models at these scales.

“Most important, partnerships across laboratories, government, industry and academia are essential to realising the transformational benefits of AI for energy,” the report states.

Role of AI: “AI can manage complexity and make connections across multiple scientific and engineering disciplines, multiple model and data types, and multiple outcome priorities,” said Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director for the Computing, Environment and Life Sciences directorate at Argonne National Laboratory. “This can enable AI to create solutions for the ​‘grand challenges’ of massive and rapid clean energy deployment that conventional methods cannot.”

Balancing act: Despite AI’s potential as an important tool in addressing the climate crisis, concerns have also been raised about climate risks that AI poses. These include energy and water use and how generative AI could increase the spread of climate disinformation.

Poland to boost climate education in schools

To mark Earth Day in April, Poland announced plans to further raise awareness and understanding of climate issues among young people.

Commitment: “Through a collaborative effort with our esteemed partners from the Ministry of Education, we are working towards a common goal to enhance the presence of environmental and climate education in Polish schools,” said Paulina Hennig-Kloska, Poland’s minister of climate and the environment. “Our commitment to this cause is unwavering.”

Beyond the classroom: Hennig-Kloska said the Ministry of Climate and Environment regularly provides teacher training and curriculum input to the Ministry of Education.

“However, school is not only about lessons,” she said. “It also provides infrastructure, the potential to develop renewable energy sources on school roofs, the creation of biodiverse school gardens, and access to plant-based meals in school canteens.”

Responsibility: The minister said while it is crucial to explain climate change and its effects to school pupils “we absolutely must not shift the responsibility for fighting climate change to children and young people”.

“We, as adults, must deal with this problem as soon as possible,” she said.

More to do in Europe: According to EarthDay.org, the organisation behind the annual Earth Day, Poland’s approach is “unprecedented within the European Union”, where it says most member states have yet to commit to integrating climate education into their school curriculums.

Leading the way: “We have been advocating for governments around the world to rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by teaching climate education in every classroom,” said Kathleen Rogers, President of EarthDay.org “We applaud Poland for helping to lead the way in this critically important educational and environmental initiative. We hope it inspires other nations to follow suit.”

Building ‘green muscle memory’: EarthDay.org recently published a report, Climate Education vs. The Climate Crisis, which highlights how educating students of all ages about the climate crisis can equip them with the tools and skills necessary to support the green economy. Additionally, it emphasises the importance of activating their ‘green muscle memory’, helping them to make sustainable choices from a young age.

The organisation says climate education can also help alleviate climate change-related anxiety in children.

Webinar: Safeguarding future generations

October 17 2024: Register now

This webinar will discuss the key elements government departments need to consider to make sure they are preparing for the future, and that policymaking can be developed to incorporate the interests of future generations.

Britain’s climate action plan unlawful, high court rules

The High Court has ruled that the UK government’s climate strategy is unlawful because it was signed off without sufficient evidence it could be achieved.

Second time: The ruling comes almost two years after another High Court judgment ordered the government to strengthen its net zero strategy to bring it in line with the Climate Change Act.

Risks remain: Both actions were brought by Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and The Good Law Project. In the most recent case, the organisations argued that the revised climate plan doesn’t adequately address risks that policies won’t be enough to meet legally binding targets.

“The plan stated that many of the future technologies it relies on to deliver emissions reductions are high risk, while many of the proposals are vague and uncertain, which raises serious questions about whether or not the emissions reductions will be achieved in full, as the plan assumed,” the organisations said.

Evidence lacking: Mr Justice Sheldon upheld four of the five grounds of the groups’ legal challenge, stating that the decision by the former energy security and net zero secretary Grant Shapps to approve the carbon budget delivery plan was “simply not justified by the evidence”.

“It is not possible to ascertain from the materials presented to the secretary of state which of the proposals and policies would not be delivered at all, or in full,” he said.

Now what? The government has 12 months to revise the plan for meeting its legal responsibilities for carbon budgets and its pledge to reduce emissions by over two-thirds by 2030.

Responses: Kyle Lischak, ClientEarth head of UK, said: “We are pleased that ClientEarth, through taking action in this case and in our 2022 case, can help ensure that the UK Climate Change Act – one of the world’s first pieces of long-term domestic climate legislation – is being implemented by the government in a way that makes the actual achievement of its net zero target a realistic proposition.”

A spokesperson from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has said: “The UK can be hugely proud of its record on climate change. Not only are we the first major economy to reach halfway to net zero, we have also set out more detail than any other G20 country on how we will reach our ambitious carbon budgets. The claims in this case were largely about process and the judgment contains no criticism of the detailed plans we have in place. We do not believe a court case about process represents the best way of driving progress towards our shared goal of reaching net zero.”

Climate litigation: Last month, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Swiss government had violated human rights by failing to do enough to combat climate change. The decision marked the first time an international court has ruled on climate change as a human rights issue. Commentators including Greta Thunberg predicted an increase in legal action against governments over climate policies.

Webinar: An equitable path to net zero – economic transformations and just transitions

June 27, 2024: Register now

As part of the Global Government Leaders Forum, during this webinar a panel of civil servants will explore how governments can build and maintain public support for the green transition. It will address issues such as how to enable a green transition while tackling poverty, how workforces and businesses in carbon-intensive industries can be supported to find new forms of income, and how public bodies can decarbonise their own operations.

Building resilience to address today’s crises and tomorrow’s catastrophes

At the Global Government Summit earlier this year in Singapore, top officials from around the world explored the timely topic of managing risks in a period of major instability.

Connected challenges: Taimar Peterkop, Estonia’s secretary of state, highlighted the complexity of the situation. “There are different crises happening at the same time,” he said. He cited climate change, rapid migration and the Ukraine war – and these crises are increasingly interlinked.

The only solution, he argued, is to build “a resilient society and civil service”. 

Reshaping government: Manygovernments have been building capabilities and reorganising themselves to prepare for future crises. Estonia, for example, has merged its civic and its security emergency response systems, creating what Peterkop called “one unit to document all the risks that Estonian society is facing”.

Risk register: Every government body should maintain an up-to-date risk register, said one civil service leader: in their country, “the role of audit committees was strengthened to effectively consider the responsiveness of risk management strategies of ministries, departments and agencies”.

Horizon scanning: Singapore has been thinking along similar lines. “We must set aside time for scenario planning, to look for where the next crisis could be, to test our blind spots, and to test the systems that we have set up,” said Cindy Khoo, a deputy secretary in the Strategy Group in the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office. 

Read the full summary now

ICYMI: More recent sustainability stories from GGF

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