Google’s carbon emissions spike 48%, puts 2030 target at risk

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The AI craze has put Google‘s 2030 “net zero” target in serious doubt. The company is rapidly expanding its AI data centers, leading to an increase in carbon or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It’s GHG emissions surged 48% between 2019 and 2024. The firm is still committed to the 2030 target but says the goal is “extremely ambitious,” which isn’t quite a positive outlook.

Google’s carbon emissions have increased drastically in recent years

Like most other tech companies, Google is putting in efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of renewable energy sources for a sustainable future. While it has made significant progress towards some of its mini-goals, like using plastic-free materials for packaging, its biggest goal appears to be going further away.

In its 2024 environmental report, Google revealed that its carbon emissions increased 13% year-on-year in 2023. As noted by Ars Technica, its pollution amounted to 14.3 million tonnes of carbon equivalent last year. That’s a massive 48% jump from 2019, a surprising movement in the opposite direction. The company should have been cutting its pollution but is adding to it.

Google says data center and supply chain expansions were the main reasons for this massive jump in carbon emissions. Its data center power consumption increased by 17% in 2023 and now accounts for 25% of the company-wide consumption. The firm’s data centers alone accounted for 7-10% of global data center energy consumption. The centers also consumed 17% more water in 2023.

Despite being headed in the wrong direction, Google is committed to the 2030 “net zero” target. The company says it’s an extremely ambitious goal made more challenging by the urgent need to bolster AI infrastructure. However, it is up for the challenge. “Scaling AI… is just as crucial as addressing the environmental impact associated with it,” Google said in its environmental report.

The company’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt added that the firm was “working very hard” on reducing its carbon emissions. It has signed deals for clean energy and is exploring opportunities for AI-powered climate solutions. These efforts may bring the desired results in the long run. “We do still expect our emissions to continue to rise before dropping towards our goal,” said Brandt.

Google replenished 1 billion gallons of water in 2023

Google’s water stewardship projects replenished an estimated 1 billion gallons of water in 2023. That amounts to 18% of its freshwater consumption last year, a 3x jump from 6% in 2022. The packaging materials for products launched in 2023 were also at least 99% plastic-free, with the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro packaging using 100% plastic-free materials. Google says it is using AI to advance climate action by organizing information, improving prediction, and improving optimization.

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