AI will be game changer in sustainability: Microsoft

The technology major is supporting organisations across the public and private sectors in their sustainability endeavours

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Somshankar Bandyopadhyay

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Sherif Tawfik (third from left) with other offcials at the Microsoft pavilion at COP28. — Supplied photo
Sherif Tawfik (third from left) with other offcials at the Microsoft pavilion at COP28. — Supplied photo

Published: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 7:21 PM

Last updated: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 7:22 PM

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the ability to act as a game changer that will speed up the process of sustainable transformation, a senior Microsoft official said.

“We’re super excited about the possibilities of AI in advancing sustainable transformation. We see that AI has three key game changing abilities that will speed up the progress for sustainable transformation,” Sherif Tawfik, Chief Sustainability Commercial Officer - Central, Southeast Europe, Middle East, and Africa at Microsoft, told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai.

Firstly, Tawfik says, AI has the ability to measure, predict, optimise and analyse very complex systems. “Think wildfires prediction; think methane leak detection; think food and water waste reduction. All of those are complex systems for you to be able to predict or to mitigate. AI can definitely help in that vector,” he said.

The second is AI will have the ability to accelerate the development of new and novel sustainability solutions. “AI can discover a new material actually that will be low carbon in nature. I think the storage of renewable energy today is a challenge to discovering new material that will have more sustainable storage for renewable energy crops that are resilient to the climate warming. We’ve all seen a recent experience of AI when it helped Moderna discover and produce a Covid -19 vaccine in six weeks versus the normal cycle of four years,” Tawfik said.

The third key game changing ability for AI is the empowerment of the sustainability workforce. “So today we have scenarios like copilot for sustainability professionals. Imagine a chief sustainability officer having a copilot that can engage thousands of suppliers, helping the suppliers and filling the survey, bringing those data, crunching the data, simplifying it detecting anomalies. In all of those are scenarios, AI can help with the complex data gathering and analysis. On top of that repetitive tasks, usually chief sustainability officers happen to have to do things over and over and over and over AI can help them. And last but not least, is the individualised trainings that it can provide to sustainability professionals, for them to be able to simplify the complex of sustainability and have a training journey that is customised for them,” Tawfik said.

At COP28, Microsoft is focused on supporting innovation and advancing the technology that is needed to enable the world to meet the Paris Agreement goals. — Supplied photo
At COP28, Microsoft is focused on supporting innovation and advancing the technology that is needed to enable the world to meet the Paris Agreement goals. — Supplied photo

At COP28, Microsoft is focused on supporting innovation and advancing the technology that is needed to enable the world to meet the Paris Agreement goals. Microsoft is actively supporting organizations across the public and private sectors in their sustainability endeavours through its comprehensive portfolio of products and solutions, which the company is showcasing at COP28.

At the climate summit, Microsoft announced a partnership with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to help build a new AI-powered platform and global climate data hub that will measure and analyse global progress in reducing emissions.

A whopping 95 per cent of Microsoft’s business model is based on partnerships. “We are working on two lines at COP — in the blue zone, it is all about engaging with governments and NGOs. Here, we are discussing things like policy advancement and standard democratisation of skilling innovation. In the green zone, where we are engaging with the private sector, it is all about partnerships,” Tawfik said.

Microsoft recently tied with Emirates NBD to help the UAE bank boost its ESG reporting, and also jointly help its customers to also advance in their sustainability reporting and reporting requirements. “So we even look to customers as partners when it comes to sustainability,” Tawfik said.

Worldwide, Tawfik estimates that about ten per cent of the companies are today committed to science-based targets. “Year by year with transparency increasing, this number will keep growing,” he added.

“Today we live in a connected fabric so there is no one continent that can operate on its own. And I’m pretty I positive and optimistic around COP28 outcomes in terms also of this region. So regulations will be one part that will help accelerate this ESG commitment but the other side I think more and more customers are getting to realise that sustainability is good business as well,” Tawfik said.


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