IGF 2023 Open Forum #37 Planetary Limits of AI: Governance for Just Digitalisation?

Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (04:30 UTC) - Tuesday, 10th October, 2023 (05:30 UTC)
WS 8 – Room C-1

Panel - 60 Min


The digital transformation increasingly contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For example, generative artificial intelligence (AI) applications consume energy at different stages of their lifecycle: during 1) hardware manufacturing, 2) model training, and 3) model deployment. The companies leading in the development of generative AI are reluctant to provide exact figures on energy consumption. However, first studies point to a high overall impact on the environment:  a conversation with ChatGPT consumes around half a liter of water for 25 to 50 individual questions (for cooling the data centers). The integration of AI chatbots into search engines could increase the required computing power by a factor of five – and thus also their energy consumption. As such, the increased application of AI could put an additional strain on efforts to stay within agreed boundaries and to limit climate change.

Different actors around the globe want to address risks and challenges related to AI. However, regulatory approaches focus primarily on ensuring safe use and on addressing societal challenges, such as deep fakes and disinformation. To ensure sustainable AI, there’s a need to limit the ecological and social risks. In particular, countries of the Global South need to be involved in this process, as AI training often takes place in emerging markets. Further, many countries in the Global South are rapidly developing their data economies. Here, the provision of sustainable digital infrastructure, such as green data centres, and frameworks for circular ICT can help to ensure a Just Transition. How can we ensure that sustainability aspects are considered in the development and deployment of the digital technologies, such as AI, and form the basis of the digital transformation?

The IGF forms the ideal forum to inspire policymaking by discussion and sharing good practices. In this Open Forum, stakeholders such as ITU, government representatives, civil society representatives and business will jointly discuss options for action for the sustainable development of the ICT sector and technologies, such as AI. The session brings together representatives from politics, business and civil society who work on sustainable ICT initiatives. For instance, international organisations such as the ITU and the World Bank are developing guidelines for sustainable data centers on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). As data centers form the basis for computation and data storage that supports AI deployment, limiting their environmental impact and energy use is a first important step for AI to remain within planetary boundaries.


Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (Germany)

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)


Martin Wimmer, Director, General Development Policy Issues, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

Atsuko Okuda, Regional Director, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Robert Opp, Chief Digital Officer, UNDP

Chhem Siriwat, Director of the Centre for Inclusive Digital Economy at the Asian Vision Institute and Advisor to the Council for the Development of Cambodia

Alice Munyua, the Director of Africa Innovation Mradi at Mozilla Corporation (tbc)

Onsite Moderator

Karlina Octaviany

Online Moderator

Annika Link, Anke Schlieker


Yilmaz Akkoyun


8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
10. Reduced Inequalities
13. Climate Action
17. Partnerships for the Goals

Targets: This discussion is relevant for the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It contributes primarily to the progressive achievement of SDG 13, “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. The discussion contributes to several targets, in particular: 13.1, 13.2, 13.3, 13.a. Furthermore, the discussion relates to SDG 17 “Strengthen global partnerships”, SDG 9 “Build resilient infrastructures, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation” as well as to SDG 8 “Decent work and economic worth”, SDG 10 “Reduce inequality within and among countries”. Implicitly, digitalisation plays a catalytic role in achieving all the goals and principles of Agenda 2030.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

The interaction between climate change and AI should be of central importance to all countries – taking potentials as well as risks into account. Particularly countries where AI and emerging technologies are developed should shine a light on this nexus and develop frameworks and approached to mitigate adverse impacts of AI on climate. Capacity building, information sharing and support for sustainable, local AI ecosystems should be promoted.

We need to ensure that AI does not create more problems than it solves, but rather serves people and planet. Therefore, efficiency of AI should be carefully and transparently evaluated. Environmental and climate considerations need to be incorporated into the development of AI.