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Artificial Intelligence could be a game-changer for India’s climate strategy – India Today

Every decision brings an element of risk with it. We process the information on risks related to several decisions every day. Simpler decisions could include crossing a road, visiting a grocery store during the ongoing pandemic, or buying a new brand of shampoo. More complex decisions may include making an investment, changing jobs, or entering a relationship. We consider multiple scenarios, using a wide range of known and unknown parameters, and arrive at a decision on the action we will take. Many of these processes happen subconsciously and we may not realize how much data we have processed to arrive at decisions to take ‘calculated risks’.Decisions related to our society’s survival and development are similar but far more complex with much more data to be processed. The volumes of data involved truly turn into what is called big data, when the environment and climate-related context is taken into account. Meteorological scientist Edward Lorenz had come up with the concept of the butterfly effect, according to which the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can change the weather and even cause a tornado in a faraway place. The concept attempts to illustrate the complexity of predicting short and medium-term weather. Make this manifold when trying to deal with long-term climate change.ENTERS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCEProcessing such large and complex data sets are possible only with the help of advanced computers, and tools such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML). While significant work has happened in the past years on forecasting climate-related risks, the science of determining what impact these risks will have on people is still in nascent stages and requires attention and investment.ALSO READ | How Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning will further advance Ed-tech sector?Our meteorological services can now warn of an incoming cyclone more than a week in advance, and we have apps on our phones that can warn us of an incoming local thunderstorm at a short notice of a couple of hours. What they don’t tell us, however, is how we will be impacted by these hazards.Just the way many pieces of information are required to forecast the weather, several things will determine what impact a cyclone or flood, or heatwave will have on a person, a neighbourhood, or a city. The capability to assimilate and process such data will give India the much-needed edge to survive the looming next level of the climate crisis. It has the potential to even show us the way to thrive despite the climate emergency, by learning to contain the worsening of climate change impacts and learning to live with risks we cannot eliminate.BEING A STEP AHEADThe frontlines of the current impacts of climate change are habitations of the economically weaker sections of society, where the capacity to absorb shocks is low. Coastal areas seeing more frequent storms, mountain regions witnessing increasing incidences of glacial lake outburst, floods, and cropped plains bearing the brunt of recurrent freak rainfall or dry spells see communities ravaged on an annual basis. AI-based models are beginning to predict hyper-local impacts of such events on the citizens with a high level of accuracy.ALSO READ | AI cannot copyright its art, US Copyright Office says human authorship necessary for patentHyperlocal here means that it is now possible to know, and to forewarn a vulnerable family in advance about the impending threat, and to help them understand what damage it will inflict on their home and surroundings, thus enabling them to take appropriate action. Action that can save lives, and life’s savings in many cases.With the escalating levels of the climate emergency, evident in the way unprecedented urban flood events are becoming increasingly frequent, such tools will be essential for the protection of lives and economic assets not just for the poor, but for all strata of society, and of cities, states and the nation. Besides helping evade destruction from short-term threats, the tool will also help in long-term planning for climate and disaster risk reduction. This will range from resilient infrastructure planning to better risk-informed budgetary provisions.BENEFITS OUTWEIGH THE RISKSAs with any powerful tool, AI also has the potential of unintended and intended misuse, which can have an adverse impact. Data on risk related to land, infrastructure, and assets can be used to expose and exploit the weaknesses of the communities. Concerns have also been raised on the environmental impact of AI, considering the carbon emissions related to the huge computational requirements of running AI-based processes for climate-related applications that are highly complex.The benefits that AI brings in this space, however, far outweigh its downside. Data security capabilities and legal protocols are already in place for putting safety nets around AI-based tools. Design of learner models using smarter indicator sets, along with improved energy efficiency of data processing systems will further improve the already viable return on investment in AI systems for climate resilience.ALSO READ | Indian astronomers detect Earth-like habitable planets using new AI technologyTo tap into the full potential that AI offers for knowing and managing our future risks, India needs to invest urgently and significantly in the development of AI capabilities in the risk management domain. Besides the development of models, there is a need to evolve a conducive policy environment that enables the convergence of required datasets, and to create a cadre of trained AI technologists and sensitised decision-makers.AI tools will anyway make a dramatic emergence in the coming years, as they make great business sense by offering to significantly increase the efficiency of market-driven processes such as real estate development, supply chain management, and insurance. Their real social impact will, however, be derived from their deployment for development planning, risk reduction, and emergency response purposes. This is where the fight against climate change can be tipped in our favour and won.