Google’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 48% in five years

Cooling pipes at a Google data center in Douglas County, Georgia.

Cooling pipes at a Google data center in Douglas County, Georgia.

Google’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen 48 percent in the past five years due to the expansion of its data centers that support artificial intelligence systems, calling into question its commitment to reach “net zero ” until 2030.

The Silicon Valley company’s pollution will reach 14.3 million tons of carbon equivalent in 2023, a 48 percent increase from the 2019 baseline and a 13 percent increase since last year, Google said in its annual environmental report. on tuesday.

Google said the jump highlighted “the challenge of reducing emissions” at the same time as it invests in building large language models and their accompanying applications and infrastructure, acknowledging that “the future environmental impact of AI” was “complex and difficult . to predict.”

Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt said the company remained committed to the 2030 target, but stressed the “extremely ambitious” nature of the goal.

“We still expect our emissions to continue to rise before falling toward our goal,” Brandt said.

She added that Google was “working very hard” to reduce its emissions, including signing clean energy agreements. There was also a “tremendous opportunity for AI-enabled climate solutions,” Brandt said.

As Big Tech giants including Google, Amazon and Microsoft have outlined plans to invest tens of billions of dollars in AI, climate experts have raised concerns about the environmental impacts of energy-intensive tools and systems.

In May, Microsoft admitted that its emissions had risen by almost a third since 2020, largely due to data center construction. However, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates last week also argued that AI would help drive climate solutions.

Meanwhile, power generation and transmission constraints are already posing a challenge to companies looking to build new technology. Analysts at Bernstein said in June that AI would “double the rate of growth in US electricity demand, and total consumption could exceed current supply in the next two years.”

In Tuesday’s report, Google said its energy-related emissions for 2023 — which come mostly from data center electricity consumption — rose 37 percent year over year and overall represented a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Google’s supply chain emissions — its largest, representing 75 percent of its total emissions — also rose 8 percent. Google said they will “continue to grow in the near term” as a result in part of building the infrastructure needed to run AI systems.

Google has committed to achieving net zero in its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to run on carbon-free energy every hour of every day within every network it operates by the same date.

However, the company warned in Tuesday’s report that the “completion” of some clean energy projects through 2023 had reduced the amount of renewables it had access to.

Meanwhile, the company’s data center electricity consumption had “outstripped” Google’s ability to bring more clean energy projects online in the US and Asia-Pacific regions.

Google’s data center electricity consumption grew 17 percent in 2023 and reached roughly 7-10 percent of global data center electricity consumption, the company estimated. Its data centers also consumed 17 percent more water in 2023 than last year, Google said.

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