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COP28: Organisations Are Adopting Data-Driven Strategies

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Saad Toma, General Manager for Middle East and Africa at IBM, says one of the key challenges in the endeavour to combat environmental issues lies in effective data management

Please tell us about your efforts that ensure a sustainable and equitable digital future.
For us to create a more sustainable future, we must recognise the pivotal role that data and AI play in driving environmental action. At IBM, we believe that AI-infused technology is a critical enabler for any organisation’s sustainability agenda and without detailed insights, sustainability remains obscured. Recently, we introduced the AI Alliance, a collaborative effort uniting 50 leading organisations from various sectors to champion open innovation and open science in AI.

This international initiative is designed to facilitate opportunities across diverse institutions, aligning the evolution of AI with the complex needs of our societies. We also launched a foundation model for weather and climate in collaboration with NASA. Trained on geospatial information, this model presents a unique opportunity to address climate change by accelerating the discovery of environmental insights. Unlike traditional AI models, geospatial foundation models can be fine-tuned for diverse applications, from flood detection to fire scars, driving impactful solutions across climate-related challenges.

To pioneer the application of foundation models, IBM has also partnered with the Mohamed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) to map the urban heat islands in the UAE. The innovative research involves a fine-tuned version of IBM’s geospatial foundation model to understand the urban environment in Abu Dhabi and explore how the underlying landscape in the UAE influences the formation of urban heat islands.

In Kenya, our partnership with the government office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change Ali Mohamed supports the National Tree Growing and Restoration Campaign, aiming to plant 15 billion trees by 2032. Leveraging our geospatial foundation model, this digital platform allows users to track and visualise tree planting activities, promoting reforestation and water sustainability. This collaboration aligns with Kenya’s climate ambitions and serves as a testament to IBM’s dedication to leveraging technology for a sustainable and equitable future.

What is your commitment to combat climate change?
We are deeply committed to combating climate change through a multifaceted approach that leverages innovation and technology. Our dedication extends globally, actively contributing expertise to address environmental challenges and champion sustainable practices. We believe to efficiently address major challenges such as climate change, partnerships are essential.

We collaborate with diverse stakeholders, including government bodies and businesses, which aligns with our commitment to developing solutions that help the Middle East region on its path towards sustainability. Furthermore, our presence at COP 28 as an Associate Pathway Partner underscores our holistic commitment, extending beyond technological advancements to empowering local economies in the UAE.

As part of our social impact programs, we are collaborating with the University of Sharjah on pioneering water solutions in the Middle East and North Africa, addressing water access challenges in arid regions. The IBM Sustainability Accelerator further amplifies our commitment with a $30 million investment, focusing on five new projects dedicated to water management solutions.

IBM Impact, our framework, encapsulates our commitment to creating a sustainable, equitable, and secure future through ethical practices, diversity, and conservation efforts. Since 1971, IBM has been at the forefront of environmental initiatives, with milestones like diverting 93.8% of nonhazardous waste in 2022. This long-standing commitment reflects our dedication to fostering a sustainable and resilient world.

What are the challenges in combatting global environmental issues?
We find that one of the key challenges in the endeavour to combat environmental issues lies in effective data management. To develop targeted and impactful solutions, we need comprehensive and accurate data regarding environmental trends, resource utilisation, and the impact of human activities. Unfortunately, the existing data is often fragmented, incomplete, or outdated. This poses a significant hurdle as it limits the ability to make informed decisions and implement strategies that can effectively address the root causes of environmental issues.

In essence, solving global environmental challenges requires us to first gather, organise, and analyse the right pieces of information. Only then can we hope to assemble a comprehensive picture that guides us toward sustainable and effective solutions. In the present scenario, companies can leverage technology to their advantage. Modern technology enables businesses to engage in sustainable reporting by utilising data analytics and insights driven by artificial intelligence (AI).

The automation of data collection not only improves precision but also allows AI to identify patterns, facilitating well-informed decision-making in resource allocation. We find Generative AI emerging as a crucial tool in this process, assisting organisations in preparing for regulatory compliance, strengthening ESG reporting, optimising efficiencies, and streamlining overall business processes.

Addressing environmental challenges also involves supporting skilled workers facing job displacement and assisting developing nations in their pursuit of economic growth. help close the global artificial intelligence (AI) skills gap, we have pledged to train two million learners in AI by 2026, targeting underrepresented communities. The initiative involves global university collaborations, partnerships for adult learner training, and the introduction of new generative AI coursework through IBM SkillsBuild.

This expands existing programs, providing improved access to AI education, and fulfilling demand for technical roles. IBM has also extended its efforts through educational courses, participation in the Sustainability Accelerator’s Water Cohort, and collaborations with organisations like Sustainable Energy for All and the UNDP. Together, they tackle challenges in energy planning, electricity access, and water management to create a more sustainable future.

What sort of trends do you foresee in the areas of sustainability and technology?
The intersection of sustainability and technology is poised for transformative developments, with decarbonisation emerging as a key focal point. This entails a strategic shift towards low- and no-carbon fuel, renewable electricity, and heightened energy efficiency, necessitating a 3.2% annual improvement as outlined by UN targets.

To embark on this journey, we will witness organisations establishing baselines and adopting data-driven strategies. This involves meticulous decisions on data collection, storage, and management for audits, performance assessment, and continual improvements—all of which are crucial for public reporting on sustainability commitments.

Prarthana Mary

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