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Google’s emissions up 48% in five years because of AI

Google's climate emissions are surging because of AI.
Google's climate emissions are surging because of AI.

The greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions of search and data giant Google increased almost 50% in five years because of artificial intelligence (AI). The technology is highly power-hungry.

The news is a blow for Google as the tech giant repeatedly touts sustainability and buying of renewable energy. The company, which divulged the emissions surge in its 2024 sustainability report, has said it wants to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030. 

In 2023 alone, Google’s emissions surge was 13% year on year, reaching 14.3mn tonnes.

The company’s data centre power consumption increased because of AI, boosted by consumption of and demand for AI. Google’s total data centre power consumption grew 17% last year.

US electricity demand will grow 20% by 2030, with AI data centres expected to add about 323 TWh of electricity demand, CNBC has reported.

Google conceded that its “extremely ambitious” goal of net zero emissions by 2030 “won’t be easy”. There is “significant uncertainty” around reaching the target such as “the uncertainty around the future environmental impact of AI, which is complex and difficult to predict”.

The tech company said that its North American and European data centres run mostly on renewable energy, but elsewhere in the world they do not.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast that total data centres electricity consumption could double from 2022 levels to 1,000 TWh in 2026, which is around Japan’s total electricity demand. By 2030, data centres will use 4.5% of global electricity generated, says research firm SemiAnalysis, quoted by the Guardian.

Google is not alone in announcing higher emissions. In May, Microsoft announced that its total CO2 emissions had increased almost 30% since 2020 – mostly because of data centres.

"If you actually go into data centre, it's really hot and really noisy," Tom Jackson, who runs the Digital Decarbonisation Design Group at Loughborough University in the UK, told the BBC.

"People don't realise everything they're storing in the cloud is having an impact on their digital carbon footprint," he said.