Innovation for the Earth

Harnessing technological breakthroughs for people and the planet

Scientists have identified that four of the nine Earth processes and systems, climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change and altered cycles in the globe’s chemistry have now crossed “boundary levels”. While these challenges are urgent and unprecedented, they coincide with an era of unparalleled innovation and technological change: the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). We set out how the 4IR, and in particular Artificial Intelligence (AI), can help solve environmental challenges, from climate change to biodiversity. In collaboration with the World Economic Forum, we discuss how AI ethics and safety needs to be extended to include “Earth-friendly” AI. Otherwise, left-unguided, AI has the potential to exacerbate, and even accelerate current environmental problems.

There is mounting scientific consensus that the Earth systems are under unprecedented stress. The model of human and economic development, developed during past industrial revolutions, has largely come at the expense of the planet. Our climate, water, air, biodiversity, forests and oceans are under increasing strain. Making the 4IR a sustainable revolution is the opportunity of this generation. The systems change required to deliver a clean, resource-secure and inclusive economy can be enabled by technology and supported by public policy and investment. But these same technological advances could also have unintended consequences in accelerating risks to the Earth and society if they are not designed and scaled in a ‘smart’ and sustainable way. Setting the course for a ‘responsible’ 4IR now, will be key to tackling our planet’s urgent environmental, social, and economic challenges. To ensure the 4IR is a sustainable revolution we conclude our reports with recommended actions for companies, governments, investors, and research institutions.

Priority action areas for addressing Earth challenges

Climate change

  • Clean power
  • Smart transport options
  • Sustainable production and consumption
  • Sustainable land-use
  • Smart cities and homes

Biodiversity and conservation

  • Habitat protection and restoration
  • Sustainable trade
  • Pollution control
  • Invasive species and disease control
  • Realising natural capital

Healthy Oceans

  • Fishing sustainably
  • Preventing pollution
  • Protecting habitats
  • Protecting species
  • Impacts from climate change (including acidification)

Water security

  • Water suppy
  • Catchment control
  • Water efficiency
  • Adequate sanitation
  • Drought planning

Clean air

  • Filtering and capture
  • Monitoring and prevention
  • Early warning
  • Clean fuels
  • Real-time, integrated, adaptive urban management

Water and disaster resilience

  • Prediction and forecasting
  • Early warning systems
  • Resilient infrastructure
  • Financial instruments
  • Resilience planning

Contact us

Will Evison

Will Evison

Global Sustainability, Climate and Nature Strategy, Director, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7718 864854

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