AI for the Planet: UNESCO highlights AI innovations for sustainable development at VIVA Tech


To address the important role AI based solutions are playing to ensure environmental sustainability, UNESCO, in collaboration with UNEP, StartUp Inside, and Microsoft, organized a global virtual conference dedicated to the theme of AI for the Planet as an official side event of VIVA Tech, Europe’s largest tech and start up event.

The conference, held on 14 June, is part of a series of monthly dialogues “Tuesdays Together for the Planet” throughout 2021. It is dedicated to highlighting AI applications in domains related to sustainable development and the preservation of our planet.

This special “Francophonie” edition took place as an official side event of Viva Tech, highlighting initiatives and use cases from the French-speaking world with the aim to share best practices, celebrate successes and inspire new actions and collaborations in this field.

The conference opened with an interview with Mr. David Jensen, Coordinator of the UNEP Digital Transformation Task Force, and Ms. Sasha Rubel, UNESCO Programme Specialist, who both emphasized the need to identify and scale AI-based solutions to preserve the environment.  This set the stage for the rest of the sessions, which covered topics including green infrastructures, maritime preservation, digital twins, and green investments.

In the opening keynote, both Mr. Stanislas Duthier, Group CIO, and Mr. Anthony Cirot, Managing Director of Google Cloud France, noted that green infrastructure is crucial not only for environmental impact, but also for businesses reputation. This idea was reinforced in the keynote of Ms. Cyrielle Hariel, who introduced her book Nos raison d’être. Vers une société durable et plus humaine, and shared insights about the importance of having Corporate Social Responsibility commitments. With new technology like apps that provide easy access to information about business supply chains, the consumer market now supports greener companies, Hariel underlined.

A discussion on how AI technology can support maritime preservation brought to light many use cases of the technology in action, such as collaborations between Cluster Maritime Français and ECOSYS Group to create “green harbors” that not just avoid producing carbon, but also actively produce green energy. Ms. Celine Heller, Account Executive at Google Cloud, shared the work of Global Fishing Watch which uses AI models to detect and monitor routes of vessels across the globe, helping in the fight against illegal fishing.

Another innovation discussed was the planet’s digital twin, which Mr. Pierre Nougué, CEO of ECOSYS, highlighted as a use of AI to increase understanding of the world so that fact-based actions can be taken to protect the planet. Mr. Michel-Ange Camhi, Chief Data Officer of Bureau Veritas, echoed this and shared how it can help authorities and the general public understand real-time effects of pollution.

More disruptive tech will continue to be developed and “there will be a convergence of emerging tech”, said Mr. Bertrand Diard, Chairman of Syroco. As more clients demand green investments, Ms. Carole Tanguy-Lepy, Deputy Director of Invesment house Edmond de Rothschild, highlighted that the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a good benchmark to measure green investments and make sure they have positive impact. “We know we must not do any harm,” she said, “but are we doing any good?”

The session closed with more use cases and thoughts from experts about the potential and limits of AI. While AI helps farmers, protects people against natural disasters, and accurately measures the reduction of carbon emissions on a highly granular level, “AI consumes a lot of energy, and we need to look at what AI can do for AI”, said Luc Julia, Chief Scientist Officer of Renault Group.

More information and the videos in replay can be found on the AI for the Planet website.