AI and Spain’s climate change and decarbonisation agenda
An opportunity to lead on the global stage

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With climate change representing an existential threat to natural habitats and human communities alike all over the world. Now is the time for action. Accordingly, as well as the critical social and ecological need, there now exists a vertical alignment of political will and ambition to act against the growing climate emergency. To comply with the Paris Agreement and achieve the 2030 targets it set out, the world must reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25-55% compared to 2018 levels. This is the decade of climate action, and there is a need for global action backed up with regional, national and local responses. 

To help meet this challenge, around the world, artificial intelligence (AI) researchers and practitioners are currently pooling resources towards solving the complex issues that are feeding the climate emergency. The complexity of the crisis, coupled with the need for exponential action, makes AI an excellent tool to help meet the globally mandated targets and limit global warming. Climate change is now a field that is continuously pushing boundaries through the development and evolution of, both in terms of sophistication and maturity, existing computer science tools and data heavy analytical capabilities. 

This report shows that the urgency of the current situation provides Spain with an opportunity. Spanish climate change research has a solid reputation internationally, thanks to high levels of success. Further to this, Spain enjoys good access to AI and machine learning expertise and talent, with numerous sources of funding available to Spanish projects. In fact, there are already a number of pioneering Spanish projects applying AI to the climate crisis and seeing high levels of success. Therefore, the urgency of the climate emergency offers Spain a unique opportunity to take the lead globally on applying AI to climate change mitigation. 
“Applying machine learning to tackle climate change has the potential both to benefit society and to advance the field of machine learning.”
Quote's Author
Rolnick et al.
Alma Cárdenas, AI for Earth Senior Program Manager at Microsoft

Spain is already proving to be a welcoming environment to AI and climate changefocused projects, including those founded abroad. As well as the reasons outlined below, this report presents five case studies looking at a broad range of Spanish projects working at the intersection of AI and climate change. One such project, Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services (ARIES), began in April 2007 at the University of Vermont, USA. However, the team has since moved to the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3), proving the conditions in Spain are attractive to established international teams and projects using artificial intelligence to mitigate climate change. 

Some of the reasons why artificial intelligence should top Spain’s climate change agenda

Spain has two ministries, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation and the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Universities overseeing the governance of AI, while the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge is responsible for climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

The 2025 Digital Spain strategy, released at the end of July 2020, supports the objectives of these three ministries and seeks sustainable digital growth. It offers an ambitious plan to invest in Spain’s ongoing digital transformation, aligned with the digital policies defined by the EU’s Shaping Europe’s Digital Future plan. With a five-year timeframe and a budget of 140 billion EUR the strategy seeks to lead and support a productive and structural transformation of the state, economy and society in Spain. As the report shows, AI is a common element to most of its ten strategic axes. 

Spain is in the top 20 countries for AI talent. Furthermore, 8% of the Spanish pool of experts surveyed in the 2018 Global AI Talent survey had made an outstanding contribution to AI, placing Spain in the top 10 countries in terms of relative quality. Spain also hosts a unit of the renowned European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent System (ELLIS) network in Alicante, which includes “the very best European academics” in the field. On top of this, Spain also has a relatively high ratio of industryled AI contributions compared to those from academia. 

The EU plays a major role in funding and sustaining both AI academic research for excellency projects and providing seed funding for AI start-ups at transnational, national, regional and local levels. In many cases, Spanish funding complements this with government and public funding coming in many forms such as grants, subventions, deductions, loans, guarantees and equities, prizes and public contracts. This funding can also be made available by different levels of governments and public institutions. 

The 2025 Digital Spain strategy repeatedly articulates the opportunities AI and climate change adaptation offer Spain’s main export and industrial sectors. However, unless the private sector can grasp the opportunity and understand how and where AI can transform and improve its business and productive models, 2025 Digital Spain will likely only see limited success.