Google’s carbon footprint balloons in its Gemini AI era

Google’s greenhouse gas emissions have ballooned, according to the company’s latest environmental report, showing how much harder it’ll be for the company to meet its climate goals as it prioritizes AI.

Google has a goal of cutting its planet-heating pollution in half by 2030 compared to a 2019 baseline. But its total greenhouse gas emissions have actually grown by 48 percent since 2019. Last year alone, it produced 14.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution — a 13 percent year-over-year increase from the year before and roughly equivalent to the amount of CO2 that 38 gas-fired power plants might release annually.

The jump in planet-heating pollution primarily comes from data center energy use and supply chain emissions, according to Google’s environmental report. Data centers are notoriously energy-hungry — those used to train AI even more so. Electricity consumption, mostly from data centers, added nearly a million metric tons of pollution to the company’s carbon footprint in 2023 and represents the biggest source of Google’s additional emissions last year.

“As we further integrate AI into our products, reducing emissions may be challenging”

“As we further integrate AI into our products, reducing emissions may be challenging due to increasing energy demands from the greater intensity of AI compute, and the emissions associated with the expected increases in our technical infrastructure investment,” the report says. Google’s data center electricity consumption alone grew by 17 percent in 2023, a “trend” it expects to continue in the future, according to the report. Already, Google estimates that its data centers accounted for up to 10 percent of global data center electricity consumption in 2023.

To try to minimize its environmental impact, Google says it’s trying to make its AI models, hardware, and data centers more energy-efficient. The company also has a goal of running on carbon pollution-free energy around the clock on each power grid it plugs into by 2030.

Google’s not alone when it comes to AI placing corporate climate aims further out of reach. Microsoft’s greenhouse gas emissions were around 30 percent higher in its 2023 fiscal year than they were in 2020.

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