Google emissions jump nearly 50% over five years as AI use surges

The Editor of the Financial Times, Roula Khalaf, curates a weekly newsletter featuring her top stories. One of the featured stories focuses on Google’s increasing greenhouse gas emissions, which have risen by 48% over the past five years. This growth is primarily due to the expansion of Google’s data centers, which support artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

In 2023, Google’s carbon emissions reached 14.3 million tonnes of carbon equivalent, a significant increase from its 2019 baseline and a 13% rise since last year. Google acknowledges that this growth poses a challenge to their commitment to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2030. Google’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Kate Brandt, emphasizes the company’s continued commitment to the 2030 goal but also notes its extreme ambition.

Brandt also mentions that while Google’s emissions are expected to rise before they decrease, the company is actively working on reducing them. This includes signing deals for clean energy and exploring opportunities for climate solutions enabled by AI.

Experts have raised concerns about the environmental impact of AI, given its power-intensive nature. In May, Microsoft admitted that its emissions had increased by almost a third since 2020, largely due to data center construction. However, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates recently argued that AI could drive climate solutions.

Energy generation and transmission constraints are already posing challenges for companies seeking to expand AI technology. Analysts at Bernstein predict that AI will double the rate of US electricity demand growth, with total consumption potentially outstripping current supply in the next two years.

In its 2023 report, Google revealed that its energy-related emissions, primarily from data center electricity consumption, increased by 37% year-on-year and accounted for a quarter of its total greenhouse gas emissions. Google’s supply chain emissions, its largest source of emissions, also rose by 8%. These increases are expected to continue in the near term due to the expansion of AI infrastructure.

Google has pledged to achieve net-zero emissions across its direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to operate on carbon-free energy during every hour of every day within each grid it operates by the same date. However, the company has faced setbacks, such as the termination of some clean energy projects in 2023 and data center electricity consumption outpacing the ability to bring more clean power projects online in the US and Asia-Pacific regions.

Google’s data center electricity consumption increased by 17% in 2023 and represents approximately 7-10% of global data center electricity consumption. Additionally, Google’s data centers consumed 17% more water in 2023 compared to the previous year.

The Financial Times’ Climate Capital section offers coverage on where climate change intersects with business, markets, and politics. Interested readers can learn more about the FT’s environmental sustainability commitments here.

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