A coalition of technology and engineering firms, business groups and universities has called on the UK government to back plans for a £100m 'International Centre for AI, Energy and Climate'.
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday, the campaigners argue that the "case for UK leadership on AI for climate has never been clearer".
They urge the government to place the development of AI and data science technologies that address climate and energy challenges at the heart of its forthcoming green recovery plans.
The proposed centre - which would require "an initial £100m funding package" - could support the transition to a net zero economy and improve the competitiveness of the UK's AI sector, while establishing the country as a global leader in data science and AI that accelerates action on climate change ahead of the COP26 climate conference, the group said.
The signatories, which include industry groups techUK and Energy UK, as well as corporates such as IBM, Arup, and Ovo Energy, warned that without the necessary government support, the UK is at risk of "falling behind" in the field of applied AI.
"Policies, data sharing models, market structures, and finance models developed for an analogue era are holding back the development and deployment of many data science applications for climate change and urgently need updating," they warn.
"Overcoming these challenges could unlock the potential for data science and AI to systemically improve the efficiency of energy systems worldwide and help address wider climate challenges."
Letter signatory Peter Cutton-Brock, senior associate at environmental think tank ESG and chief executive at consultancy Radiance International, emphasised that the UK should jump on the opportunity to develop a sector that can boost the economy while helping the country decarbonise.
"All countries across the world are now undergoing two economic revolutions: the transition to zero emissions and the increasing application of data science and AI," he said. "There are enormous opportunities in connecting these two revolutions together both to help accelerate the transition to net zero emissions, and for the UK unlock the huge economic potential in this space."
The campaigners pointed to research published last year by Microsoft and PwC that estimated that boosting AI adoption in just four sectors could reduce global emissions by up to four per cent against a business as usual scenario, while spurring an increase of global GDP of 4.4 per cent.
They argued that next year's COP26 climate summit, which "represents the largest ever gathering of international leaders on UK soil", presents a major opportunity for the UK to showcase its AI and data science leadership.
In order to highlight the UK's expertise and the role of technology in climate change mitigation and adaption, they recommend that the government dedicate a pavilion at the COP26 climate conference to emerging 'climate tech'.
Paul Masarra, former chief executive of RWE nPower, argued AI and advanced computing technologies had a critical role to play in accelerating the net zero transition across a host of industries.
"Over time energy systems will need to fully embrace digital technologies such as data science and AI to be able to manage the increasing number and complexity of assets coming onto the grid due to the zero carbon transition, including variable and distributed generation, electric cars, batteries and demand side response assets," he said.
"The government needs to support a locus of expertise, such as the International Centre for AI, Energy & Climate, that can accelerate and advise on this transition, and which can support the creation of hundreds of start-ups and thousands of high-tech jobs."
The campaigners also asked the Prime Minister to prioritise investments that improve the UK's energy system data collection and data sharing.
"Enhanced energy data collection, standards and sharing combined with radically better energy system intelligence could help reduce energy prices, thereby supporting the wider economy," they wrote. "These elements are also fundamental pre-requisites for renewables-dominated energy systems."
The letter is the latest in raft of calls for Ministers to prioritise clean technologies in the government's imminent economic stimulus package. The government has signalled it is keen to advance climate action through its recovery plans, with reports suggesting carbon capture and storage, building upgrades, green hydrogen and electric vehicle infrastructure could all enjoy a boost.
Advocates of increased investment in AI will be particularly optimistic their proposals could catch the eye of Number 10, given the Prime Minister's senior advisor Dominic Cummings has long argued advanced R&D should receive more support from government.
A version of this article was first published on our sibling site BusinessGreen
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