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UNECE explores how AI can accelerate climate action and infrastructure resilience

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Technological advances have brought down the C02 emission intensity of GDP in the UNECE region by 31% from 2010 to 2020. But progress on climate action remains far too slow. Each one of the past twelve months has been the hottest such month on record. The cost of extreme weather events, such as devastating floods, wildfires, and storms, in terms of destroyed infrastructure and lost output could double this decade. And the world has consumed as many primary materials in the last six years as in the entire 20th century.  

Clearly, the UNECE region needs to step up its efforts to limit resource depletion and climate change. And it needs to do much more to adapt to its consequences. The public and private investments needed to make critical infrastructure sustainable and resilient alone are estimated at USD 6.9 trillion per year.  

In the run-up to the United Nations Summit of the Future in September - a high-level conference aimed at addressing global challenges and strengthening international cooperation to achieve sustainable development and peace - policy makers and change makers from industry, academia and civil society gathered in Geneva at the recent annual session of the UNECE Committee on Innovation, Competitiveness and Public-Private Partnerships to discuss the prospects of artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate climate action and the circular economy transition, and how to make infrastructure more resilient for a sustainable future. 

“Never before has the need for finding innovative solutions and for mobilizing financing for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) been greater” said UNECE Executive Secretary Tatiana Molcean. “Innovation and infrastructure finance, particularly through sustainable infrastructure PPPs, are central to addressing today’s challenges and to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.”  

As the session showed, AI can speed up truly transformative innovation in climate critical areas by helping to cope with the complexities of driving sustainability transitions and by modelling the responses of complex socio-economic systems to policy changes. Participants highlighted examples of AI to predict and mitigate climate risks, enhancing early warning systems, and supporting climate adaptation strategies.  

AI is also increasingly being used to speed up the design and delivery of resilient infrastructure through PPPs. AI can be used to monitor and maintain critical infrastructure, ensuring robust responses to environmental stresses and natural disasters. Employing AI early in the process can also predict infrastructure needs, significantly lower transaction costs, and speed up the PPP lifecycle, thus offering a major boost in efficiency and effectiveness in support of the SDGs.  

At the same time, these opportunities must be balanced against risks arising from the large environmental footprints of many current applications of AI, broad fairness, trustworthiness, and ownership concerns, and issues related to access, data security, and privacy. UNECE is helping member States in all its areas of work to use AI in a manner that is based on the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Committee identified the following priorities for future work: 

  • Promote more public-private collaboration: Facilitating partnerships between governments, businesses, research institutions and end users to foster AI innovation in climate action and infrastructure resilience. 

  • Build more human capacity: Providing training and resources to policymakers and practitioners on the implementation of AI-driven solutions for climate and infrastructure challenges, including how it can reduce PPP transaction costs and speed up the development process of projects. 

  • Create appropriate policy frameworks: Assisting member States in developing policies that support the ethical and effective use of AI for driving innovation and PPP investments into climate action and infrastructure resilience. 


For more information, visit: 17th session of the Committee on Innovation, Competitiveness and Public-Private Partnerships | UNECE 

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