Monthly Archives: January 2019

EU raises the bar – but is it high enough?

Towards the end of last year, the EU Commission published  a long-term climate strategy for the EU. The paper raises earlier targets and proposes a climate-neutral EU by the year 2050.

The EU Commission communication will now be discussed in the European Parliament and European Council. The aim is to be in a position to establish a long-term strategy by no later than the beginning of 2020 as part of global climate efforts and as a continuation of the Paris Agreement.

The communication includes many important messages. The Commission states that the entire European economy needs modernising and that initiatives need to be implemented earlier. The document also highlights several important areas such as energy efficiency measures, the replacement of fuels to move away from fossil fuels, utilising a bio-based and circular economy and to expand technology for carbon capture. That all these areas need to be combined is of significance. Any of these strategies on their own will not be enough.

I personally envisage a need to also discuss demand limiting measures to a greater extent. If the focus lies on efficiency gains and technological developments, there is a risk that consumption will increase that will eat up the gains of efficiency improvements. There is therefore a need to work in parallel with technological measures and actions that limit and change demand.

The communication also highlights the importance of levying charges on emissions of greenhouse gases. In such cases, this ought to mean that emissions that are largely exempt from charges or taxes today, such as from food production and international transport, are also taxed which would increase opportunities for cost effective measures. It could also lead to being paid for negative emissions, something that is perhaps necessary to make this worth pursuing.

One important question is whether this strategy goes far enough to achieve the Paris Agreement goals on limiting global warming to two degrees and aiming for 1.5 degrees. It is doubtful whether emissions will be reduced quickly enough for this and if the strategy will lead to negative emissions beyond 2050. It is therefore important to continue to discuss these issues, not least in association with the elections to the European Parliament that will play a role in what decisions are taken.

Tip of the week: Södertälje Science Week. Plenty of interesting discussions and activities. More about the programme here

Let´s talk about AI

Big investments are being made in Artificial Intelligence (AI) right now. What society can and would like to use AI for is less frequently discussed. A more detailed dialogue is needed.

Artificial Intelligence is described in various contexts as a key technology that is going to change society and industry in a fundamental way. Different research funding bodies are providing big sums. The goals of these investments are said to include to benefit Swedish industry and to fuel industrial development.

I think AI offers enormous potential. For this very reason, those of us within research also need to discuss what society can and would like to use AI for.
Does it matter which industry will benefit or are there certain applications that are of more or less interest?
Are there risks with AI we need to become aware of, to further research and discuss?
How can AI contribute to sustainable development and is there a risk that it will prevent this? If we are to address these and other questions, research into AI cannot simply be the domain of the most closely related scientific subject areas, it must also embrace other relevant areas.

In association with international discussions on the opportunities and risks of AI, researchers and other stakeholders have formulated a number of principles for AI research. One of these principles concerns the goals of the research: “The goal of research into AI should not be to create random intelligence but benign intelligence”. Another principle states that “Investments in AI should be accompanied by the financing of research to guarantee the benign use of AI. Research should include thorny issues within computer science, economics, politics, law, ethics and social science…”. These principles could be interesting starting points for further debate.

If you compare the principles quoted above with the goals of the substantial investments within AI that are being made today, there appears to be daylight between them. It is therefore important that there is increasing debate both within universities and beyond, concerning what AI research is needed, how it should be financed and what the purpose of the AI research should be.

Tip of the week:Follow the webinar on how CO2 emissions can be halved by 2030, from 13.00-15.00 on 11 January. Researchers from KTH and other universities present The Exponential Climate Action Roadmap. For more information and to register, click here.