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The Paris Olympics are still a month away, but I’m using an Olympic theme for this blog anyway. Earlier this month, I wrote that CEOs are more interested in making internal investments in AI than in sustainability/decarbonization. Not surprisingly, capital markets are likewise more focused on AI that pretty much anything else.  Bloomberg wrote about the “AI obsession”:

“One impact that gets less focus is whether the AI hype is taking attention and money away from climate-change mitigation. James Socas, who runs the climate-solutions business at Investcorp, the Middle East’s biggest alternative asset manager, says that’s already happening.

‘Institutional investors have over-torqued on the promise of AI and risk underfunding, and are underfocusing on the reality and opportunity of climate,’ Socas said. ‘And that’s despite the clear evidence that climate is becoming a bigger issue with very favorable regulatory tailwinds that support climate investments’ … Socas said these days it’s AI that’s soaking up money and investor attention, ‘but there’s a need for an enormous amount of capital in a short period for climate finance.’”

Certainly some of the AI development is in climate solutions and other sustainability matters, so – yes – there is overlap to an extent. But looking at an earlier blog about a McKinsey study on corporate AI investment, that doesn’t appear to be as meaningful as other applications:

“Generative AI is helping cut costs and pump up revenue… Companies most commonly use it to support marketing strategy, personalize marketing, identify and prioritize sales leads, create designs for services and products, review research, and speed simulation and testing… the early movers … already attribute more than 10 percent of their organizations’ EBIT to their use of gen AI.”

In the race to win investor funding, who will win between AI and transition opportunities? The tension between the pursuit of short term returns (the AI sprint) and long term value (transition – a long distance runner) remains an issue. Sustainability professionals need to keep focused on business fundamentals to remain relevant, and plan for the race to be more like a steeplechase as the course changes and obstacles appear. There was already a significant risk that today’s unicorn climate solutions may dissolve before they are commercialized, but investor obsession with AI adds a new hurdle.

Our members can learn more about AI in ESG here.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile