Google says its emissions have grown nearly 50% due to AI data center boom — and here's what it plans to do about it

An angled close up of the Google sign logo at a Google office
(Image credit: Shutterstock/Jay Fog)

Google’s ambitious plan to curb its emissions is at risk after the tech giant revealed it had experienced a 48% increase in greenhouse gas emissions over the past five years.

The company blames its power-hungry artificial data centers for the spike, with emissions climbing by 13% in just the one year leading up to 2023 – a key year for AI developments.

In its annual environmental report, Google acknowledged achieving its “extremely ambitious” goal of net zero emissions by the end of the decade “won’t be easy,” highlighting “significant uncertainty” around AI's environmental impact.

Google is struggling with its emissions target

The report details some of Google's existing efforts, such as electrifying its offices and building its portfolio of clean energy initiatives. By the end of 2023, Google said it had amassed seven full years of renewable energy matching despite rising consumption.

For Google, it seems like the mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a never-ending battle. Its data centers are already 1.8x more energy efficient than the typical site (according to internal analysis), delivering nearly four times as much computing power per watt.

The company also seems to be chasing its tail when it comes to water consumption. On one hand, water cooling has been shown to reduce energy consumption, helping to significantly reduce emissions, but on the other hand, data center companies have come under fire for their use of natural resources, which could have broader and less measurable effects.

Google has committed to replenishing more water than it uses (120%) across its data centers and offices by 2030, but in 2023 that figure stood at just 18%.

However, these challenges aren’t unique to Google. A few weeks ago, Microsoft President Brad Smith also noted that the company’s AI strategy had shifted its emissions targets.

There’s also hope that artificial intelligence, with its ability to process vast amounts of data quickly, could help companies advance their sustainability work, making this a two-pronged debate.

Looking ahead, Google stated: “As our business and industry continue to evolve, we expect our total GHG emissions to rise before dropping toward our absolute emissions reduction target.”

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Craig Hale

With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!