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AI for Environmental Sustainability: Interview with Sedef Akinli Kocak and Deval Pandya

Dive into the intersection of AI and environmental sustainability in our compelling interview with Sedef Akinli Kocak and Deval Pandya.
Rusen Kumar

Words Rusen Kumar

In today’s rapidly changing climate landscape, the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to offer transformative solutions is more crucial than ever. This feature presents an engaging dialogue with Sedef Akinli Kocak and Deval Pandya, who are at the forefront of merging AI with environmental sustainability at the Vector Institute and the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action. Guided by Rusen Kumar, Managing Editor of AI Reporter, we delve into how these leaders are steering AI technologies to tackle some of the globe’s most urgent environmental challenges. Join us as we explore the innovative intersections of AI and climate action, illuminating a path toward a sustainable future.

AI and Environmental Sustainability: Focus Areas Highlighted in the Interview

  • AI Applications in Climate Solutions: Innovative uses of AI, such as predictive analytics for environmental disasters and optimizing renewable energy usage, are discussed.
  • Challenges and Ethical Considerations: The interview addresses the technical and moral challenges in bridging the gap between AI research and practical climate solutions, emphasizing data privacy, security, and the integration of indigenous knowledge.
  • Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing: An open-source approach is a cornerstone of the alliance’s strategy, fostering a global exchange of ideas and solutions.



Briefly introduce yourself and your role at the Vector Institute and within the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action.

About the Interviewees

  • Sedef Akinli Kocak, the Director of Professional Development at the Vector Institute, also serves as the Sustainability Lead for the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action Impact. Her role underscores the commitment to integrating AI with global sustainability efforts, fostering educational and professional growth in this critical field.
  • Deval Pandya, the Vice President of AI Engineering at the Vector Institute, holds the position of Technical Lead for the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action. His expertise in AI engineering places him at the cutting edge of developing technologies that promise significant environmental benefits.

Briefly explain the goals and mission of the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action.

Through this exciting international partnership, we at the Vector Institute look forward to uniting our world-class AI research community with the deep knowledge and experience of climate groups worldwide. By bringing together our collective expertise, we aim to collaboratively explore the transformative potential of AI to drive powerful, sustainable solutions for some of the most pressing environmental challenges we face today.


Sedef Akinli Kocak Director Vector Institute Sustainability Lead Global AI Alliance. Image: AI Reporter
Sedef Akinli Kocak Director Vector Institute Sustainability Lead Global AI Alliance. Image: AI Reporter

Focus on AI Technologies

Specific Applications

Can you elaborate on the specific AI technologies that the alliance will initially focus on for climate solutions (e.g., machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing)?

Right now we are in the exciting first phase of launching the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action where we are inviting interested climate change groups from around the world. Vector’s strengths are in deep learning but we aren’t limiting ourselves here. Instead, we recognize the complexities of climate change and we are open to exploring innovative ways to apply AI for positive environmental impact.

Accessibility and Equity

How will the alliance ensure that AI solutions are accessible and beneficial to diverse communities around the world, especially those most vulnerable to climate change?

By fully open-sourcing our AI solutions and research outcomes, we aim to make our work accessible and beneficial to diverse global communities. While there’s more to be done to ensure truly equitable impact, especially for those most vulnerable to climate change, we’re committed to this crucial goal.


Bridging the Gap between Research and Action

Challenges and Solutions

What are the key challenges you anticipate in bridging the gap between AI research and real-world climate action, and how will the alliance address them (e.g., data availability, computational resources, stakeholder engagement)?

Bridging AI research and real-world climate action poses challenges around data, stakeholder engagement, and computational resources. Tackling these will require close collaboration between Vector’s research expertise and diverse climate groups. By leveraging our collective strengths, including Vector’s technical capabilities, we aim to explore safe AI solutions that drive meaningful societal impact in the face of climate change.

Measuring Success

How will the alliance measure the success and impact of its AI-driven climate solutions?

Success for the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action will be measured at different phases. In the first phase, success means identifying and bringing together climate groups that, in the second phase, will connect with Vector researchers to consider the real-world climate challenges these groups are tackling. In the third phase, success will be determined by the impact and applicability of any solutions that emerge from these collaborations, whether they’re short-term or long-term, for industry or the public sector.

However, success is not only about implementing solutions, but also about working towards a policy framework with our policy partners to ensure our outcomes align in positive ways to better society. Beyond these specific measures, success means raising awareness to create more intersections between the fields of AI and climate. It’s not enough for these fields to work in parallel – they must work together, integrate their efforts, and openly share expertise and results.


Deval Pandya Vice President Vector Institute  and Technical Lead Global AI Alliance. Image: AI Reporter
Deval Pandya Vice President Vector Institute and Technical Lead Global AI Alliance. Image: AI Reporter

Examples of AI in Action

Predicting Environmental Disasters

The alliance mentions predicting fires and floods. Can you provide specific examples of how AI will be used for this purpose, and how it will improve upon existing prediction methods?

The specific applications of AI for climate change will come from the innovative collaborations fostered by the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action. We’re excited to see what the climate action groups and the Vector researchers will develop together as they explore the potential here of AI for good.

An interesting example of how AI can help with climate change is by using computer vision to tackle invasive species. Recent work by Vector Faculty Member and Canada CIFAR Artificial Intelligence Chair Graham Taylor lead to the development of an AI framework for mapping invasive mussel populations in Canada’s lakes. By using computer vision to identify individual mussels in lakebed images, this framework enables more accurate and scalable population mapping compared to manual methods. This is crucial for monitoring and managing the harmful impacts of these invasive species.

Taylor’s work using AI to tackle invasive species is just one example of the potential for innovative AI applications that could emerge from the collaborations coming out of the alliance.

Renewable Energy Integration

How will AI be used to enhance the use and efficiency of renewable energy sources?

Phase two is when Vector researchers will connect with international climate action groups to explore how AI can be applied to different climate challenges, including energy efficiency.

A great example of how AI is already being leveraged for this is shown through Vector’s collaboration with TELUS. Together we built an AI solution that uses reinforcement learning to optimize HVAC systems in data centres, leading to a 12% reduction in annual electricity consumption in a pilot test.

This project illustrates the kind of tangible impact that AI can have in making our energy use more efficient and sustainable. With the diverse expertise coming together through the alliance, we’ll likely see similar innovative applications of AI emerge to support renewable energy integration and optimization.


Artificial Intelligence. Image: AI Reporter
Artificial Intelligence. Image: AI Reporter

Ethical Considerations

Data Privacy and Security

How will the alliance address concerns related to data privacy and security when implementing AI solutions for climate action?

Data privacy and security are top priorities for the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action. All of our projects will adhere to the Vector Institute’s AI Trust and Safety Principles, which include a strong commitment to ensuring that AI systems reflect the privacy and security interests of individuals.

In line with these principles, we will use techniques like data anonymization to protect individual privacy and follow all relevant privacy and security rules and regulations in the countries where we operate. As our work progresses, we will continue to refine our approach to ensure that our AI solutions for climate action are not only impactful, but also responsible.”

Indigenous Knowledge and Local Communities

What role will Indigenous knowledge and local communities play in the development and deployment of AI-driven climate solutions within the alliance?

Our collaborative work through the alliance is guided by the Vector Institute’s AI Trust and Safety Principles, which include a commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

In line with these principles, we intend to engage with a diverse range of partners, including Indigenous and local groups, to ensure our AI solutions benefit all communities. The specific role these communities will play in the development and deployment of our solutions will depend on the collaborative efforts of our Vector researchers and the climate groups across the countries where we work. Whatever these collaborative AI for good projects look like, we are committed to developing sustainable climate solutions that value and incorporate diverse perspectives and local expertise.


Global AI Alliance for Climate Action
Canada Vector Institute Institute Vecteur. Image: AI Reporter

Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing

Open-Source Approach

How will the alliance promote open-source collaboration and knowledge sharing within the global AI and climate action community?

Open-source collaboration and knowledge sharing are integral to our collaborative approach. We are committed to making all the AI research outcomes developed through the alliance open and accessible. By sharing our work openly, we aim to enable and empower a diverse global community of AI researchers, climate action groups, and other stakeholders to build upon and benefit from our efforts.

To actively promote knowledge exchange, we plan to hold knowledge sharing sessions and events in the future where our collaborators can come together to discuss their findings, challenges, and successes. We will also widely share the outcomes of our projects through both Vector and Be Node channels to reach a broad audience.


Vision for the Future

Long-Term Goals

What long-term vision do you have for the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action, beyond the initial projects and collaborations?

Our long-term vision is that the work of the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action will encourage more international collaboration around using AI to tackle climate change. We believe our efforts can drive increased awareness, funding, and resources for projects that will ultimately benefit international sustainability efforts.

Call to Action

What message would you like to convey to the global AI community about the urgency of addressing climate change and the potential of AI to contribute to solutions?

AI is a team sport, and addressing a challenge as complex as climate change means that we need to collaborate. And that collaboration needs to include multiple players from academia, industry and the public sector, including not just technical experts but also subject matter specialists, ethicists, and policymakers. As we explore how AI can contribute to climate solutions, we must carefully consider the full scope of potential sustainability impacts, both short- and long-term, across economic, social, technical, environmental, and individual dimensions.

This means grappling with difficult trade-offs. For example, while large AI models can be energy-intensive, they also have the potential to unlock crucial insights and strategies for reducing emissions and adapting to climate impacts. Finding the right balance will require ongoing dialogue and cooperation within the AI community.

By working together and taking a comprehensive view, we can strive to develop safe AI applications that drive positive, sustainable change while navigating these complexities.



Briefly summarize the key takeaways and potential impact of the Global AI Alliance for Climate Action.

The Global AI Alliance for Climate Action brings together Vector Institute’s AI expertise and Be Node’s climate action leadership to drive responsible AI solutions for the critical challenge of climate change. This partnership, Vector’s first global alliance, highlights our commitment to cross-border cooperation and safe AI innovation. It also amplifies the important work of partners like Be Node in driving climate action and innovation.

Many academic efforts use machine learning for climate change and emergency response planning. We believe that impact-oriented non-profit partnerships with a global focus will have a tangible impact on climate action.

Potentially, we anticipate this collaboration will generate more awareness and interest in AI and sustainability and, especially if projects are rooted in Canada, bring more high-calibre AI talent to grow the Vector community here in Canada.

Overall, we believe this alliance represents a significant step in leveraging AI to combat climate change and promote sustainability, by bringing together key players in the AI community who share a vision for responsible innovation.


About the Author

Rusen Kumar

Rusen Kumar is a seasoned journalist and the Managing Editor of AI Reporter, a leading online publication dedicated to covering the latest advancements and implications of artificial intelligence. With a deep understanding of the AI landscape and a passion for insightful reporting, Rusen Kumar plays a pivotal role in informing and educating audiences about the transformative power of AI.