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World Environment Day: Innovative technology is the key to fulfilling our obligation to the planet

Author:

Kirsty Langan

Published On:

June 5, 2024

Published In:

PR & Communications

World Environment Day: Innovative technology is the key to fulfilling our obligation to the planet

World Environment Day 2024 is dedicated to land restoration, reversing desertification, and improving drought resilience. This is especially important given 2023 was the hottest year on record, with global warming a major contributor to land degradation.

Why land degradation is a serious problem

Land degradation endangers basic human rights to life, health, food, water, and a healthy environment. It affects 3.2 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population, with rural communities, smallholder farmers, and the poorest being the hardest hit. And it is predicted that by 2040 it will cause global food productivity to decrease by 12%, leading to a potential 30% rise in food prices. 

Around the world, more than 2 billion hectares of land—an area almost equivalent to the size of India and Russia combined—are degraded. Annually, another 12 million hectares succumb to degradation, significantly affecting global food and water supplies. Droughts, the most severe threat to livestock and crops, directly impact 55 million people each year. 

Tackling climate change is essential to addressing these issues, which in turn will protect the planet against biodiversity loss and pollution, preserving ecosystems and livelihoods globally. However, conventional efforts haven’t made enough progress.

There is reason to be optimistic. Innovative technology is driving momentum towards land restoration and broader environmental protection goals. This starts with digitisation.

Digitisation

Like many other industries, agriculture is undergoing a digital transformation revolution.  Digitisation via the integration of advanced tools for data collection, analysis, and monitoring is vastly enhancing the effectiveness of initiatives to address land restoration, desertification, and drought. It creates the ability to accurately assess land conditions, track changes both in real time and over longer periods so that areas most at risk can be identified for targeted interventions. Additionally, digital tools can support community engagement and knowledge sharing, ensuring that local practices and insights are incorporated into broader strategies, thereby enhancing the overall success of land management and conservation efforts.

And as agriculture becomes increasingly digital, new technologies are emerging that enable new ways of working and promise to solve the problems of land degradation. Thankfully, many innovations are happening in deep tech….

Deep tech

Deep tech innovations involve fundamental breakthroughs in science and engineering, creating new markets and transforming existing ones. They have huge potential for tackling land degradation. WeForest, which uses biotechnology to develop perma-forests, enhance cloud cover, and cultivate atmospheric microbiomes exemplifies deep tech in action. This approach drives global land and forest restoration, prevents deforestation, and reduces land degradation. WeForest has restored over 49,000 hectares (490 million square metres) and 61 million trees across three continents, aiming to reach 100,000 hectares (100 million trees) by 2025. By creating resilient forest ecosystems, WeForest significantly lowers carbon footprints, protects wildlife habitats, and preserves water resources. Integrating cutting-edge science with practical conservation, WeForest highlights the essential role of deep tech in environmental recovery and protection. 

Artificial intelligence

 

AI also has a crucial role to play in addressing land degradation thanks to its predictive and optimisation capabilities. For example, IBM’s Environmental Intelligence Suite uses AI and machine learning to help organisations anticipate and plan for climate-related disruptions such as floods and droughts days in advance and optimise energy resources, enabling better preparedness and mitigating land degradation and economic impacts.

By integrating AI and robotics, industries can adopt more sustainable waste management practices, supporting land restoration and broader environmental conservation efforts. AI-powered robots, like those developed by AMP, automate waste sorting, improve recycling rates and reduce landfill waste. This technology enhances the efficiency of waste management systems, decreases contamination, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions from waste decomposition. 

Robotics and batteries

Digitising farming vehicles to be electric, fully automated, and intelligent is also being used to reduce the food sector’s carbon footprint and prevent land degradation through more efficient and sustainable farming practices. Companies like John Deere are amongst the leaders of this transformation with their autonomous, electric tractors that use advanced sensors and AI for optimised planting, harvesting, and soil management.

Advancements in semiconductors are also key to enhancing the efficiency of agricultural robotics. These powerful processors enable intelligent machinery to perform complex tasks with greater precision and speed, reducing labour and resource waste. For example, autonomous farming companies, like AgXeed, rely on semiconductor technology to facilitate efficient automation and minimise environmental impact.

There are also new battery technologies, such as ammonia-based batteries, that offer a sustainable energy alternative to reliance on the mining of rare earth minerals which contributes to land degradation. Companies like Amogy are pioneering this with their ammonia-powered batteries for electric farming vehicles.

World Environment Day shines a light on the threat that land degradation is posing to the planet. Although we see innovative technology companies emerging to address the problem, collaboration is needed between businesses, governments and other key stakeholders to support the continued technological innovation needed to tackle one of the planet’s biggest challenges.

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