Blockchain can trace everything from green supply chains to emissions cuts, enable green energy trading and convert plastic waste into cash. A host of initiatives and start-ups are getting in on the technology.
Technology hasn’t always been the climate’s best friend. From the industrial revolution that forever changed our relationship to the planet, to modern devices that mean we’re constantly consuming energy and adding to mountains of electronic waste, every human step into the future seems to put Earth in greater jeopardy.
But the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution — the latest boom of technological innovation — could buck that trend. Blockchain is at the forefront of the movement. Apparently incorruptible, this public ledger allows transparent, global worldwide digital transactions. And it could boost climate action.
Peer-to-peer exchanges and direct tracking of products reduce costs and increase trust. The technology can also be used to reward climate action. Even the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is backing the Climate Chain Coalition platform to help monitor countries’ progress on cutting emissions and mobilize climate finance.
Transparent supply chains
Tracing the entire supply chain behind “green” products is often close to impossible. But blockchain-based apps like Foodtrax enable consumers to follow products from source to store shelf.
Multinational supermarket chain Carrefour is already using a similar system that means customers can scan packaging for detailed information on a product’s source and production processes.
The WWF Blockchain Supply Chain Traceability Project, meanwhile, is helping consumers avoid products linked to illegal fishing and human rights abuses by tracing Pacific catches from vessel to supermarkets around the world.
The technology could also expand the possibilities of carbon trading, as well as toughen up climate protection policy and help countries reach their targets under the Paris Agreement by calculating emissions and avoiding manipulation of data.
“Right now, the whole carbon industry is only for the big boys,” Matthias Gelber, environmental chief officer at Singapore-based New Era Energy, told DW. Collecting and verifying data can cost up to $40,000 (€33,700), shutting small companies and individuals out of the market, he said.
Most of those costs are related to complex processes of monitoring and certification. But blockchain can simplify and automate those processes, meaning much smaller players could be brought into the carbon market.
Monitoring green projects
The same mechanism could also revolutionize the evaluation of green initiatives. Marion Verles is chief executive of the Gold Standard Foundation, which certifies emissions-reduction projects and is part of the Climate Ledger Initiative , which in turn works on blockchain solutions for climate protection. She gives the example of a project her organization is piloting to provide households with low-emission cook stoves.
If success saw it scaled up to distribute, say, 100,000 stoves, tracking the climate impact of their manufacture, distribution and performance would usually be prohibitively expensive. “We’re talking maybe about $50,000 to $80,000 a year,” Verles told DW.
Instead, sensors have been added to the cook stoves that connect to a digital cloud database and send information directly to a blockchain platform at a much lower cost.