Oliver Russell


Climate Change, Blockchain And The Paris Agreement: A New Hope

Getting 196 countries to cooperate is a challenge we cannot fail.

Photo by Dikaseva

There is no doubt that we are collectively conscious of the importance of curbing our global carbon emissions. We have started to walk down the path towards a sustainable future. But the question still remains: can we cooperate fast enough to prevent serious damage to societies all over the world?

This was exactly what the Paris Agreement in 2015 wanted to achieve. For the first time in the history of humanity, 196 countries have committed to work together to fight climate change. Politicians from nations all over the world clapped and cheered together as these talks came to an end. Has this been converted to the real global action required to prevent 2°C of pre-industrial warming by 2050?

The Low Carbon Economy Index report, released by the consultancy giant PwC, came out last week. It states that there isn’t a single country in the world doing enough to cut carbon emissions in line with the targets set out. A week later and the UN, with the help of the world’s leading climate scientists, released a report stating we have 12 years to keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5°C. They stated that urgent and unprecedented change is required to prevent environmental disaster.

These reports demand us to do better. They force us to look at the failings of our previous climate agreements and urgently pressure us to learn from our collective mistakes.

How Did We Get Here?

We have failed many times to make climate agreements work. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol tried to take into account the economical situations of different nations and made two scenarios. They first made legally binding targets for the developed world. Any country considered as ‘developing’, like China and India, weren’t required by law to cut emissions. Their per capita emissions were much lower and still growing. They would get a pass this time.

What happened next? US factories just moved overseas where the law couldn’t hurt them. Both the US and Canada withdrew from the legally binding agreement, with no penalty. Europe, Japan and New Zealand made some small positive changes to emissions, but China and India burned so much coal and grew so fast that global emissions skyrocketed.

Fast forward to the Copenhagen talks twelve years later. All countries, rich and poor, had to make legally binding commitments. Arguments erupted. Developing countries insisted that it was their turn to burn coal without limits. After all, the US and Europe did that for years and reaped the benefits. The talks concluded miserably, with vague agreements and nothing to hold a country liable for inaction.

Back to the Paris Agreement. How is this any different from previous failures? Every country has submitted a voluntary pledge stating how they are going to tackle climate change. This makes sense. Each country can analyse what it deems politically practical and technologically feasible. They can tailor their climate efforts to their own circumstances. China creates a pledge that will help air pollution in cities and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. India can focus on bringing electricity to villages by changing their energy infrastructure to suit solar power. This sounds fantastic on paper but with nothing legally binding — will these voluntary pledges be enough?

Transparency and Blockchain Technology

To keep track of emissions successfully, every country should have a carbon account. Each country’s carbon account needs to be connected to all the other carbon accounts in the world. Nobody can keep their emissions data hidden from anyone else. This information has to be laid out for all eyes to see so we can collectively face this challenge head on.

Photo by Jon Tyson

For this to work, we need a public, transparent system that ensures that international cooperation will be much easier than it has been in the past. Countries also need a system that gives out incentives to reduce their emissions. This has to be designed so it cannot be manipulated at the expense of others.

We cannot solely rely on political will to achieve a system like this. It has failed us every time. If we are asking every country on the planet to collaborate in solving one of humanity’s greatest challenges, this system must belong to the world. It cannot be concentrated in the hands of a powerful few who can manipulate it in line with their interests.

Designing A Global Transparent System

Using a public, open source blockchain protocol, The Blockchain for Climate Foundation plans to create a system exactly like this. It will use the design parameters of an important part of the Paris Agreement — Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs).

To give a simple overview, an ITMO represents an emissions reduction or removal that can be traded with other countries. They can be measured in tonnes of CO2. These emissions reductions have value and can be traded on a blockchain using Unique Fungible Tokens (UFTs).

These tokens represent tonnes of CO2 emissions that have been reduced. A token holds information and data about a particular ton of CO2 reduction. Information about how this emission reduction was generated, along with standards and origin, is linked to a token. The token can be traded many times on a blockchain and the data will still be tied to it.

Why Do We Need A Blockchain For The Paris Agreement?

3 key reasons:

  • To keep account of each country’s emission reductions in a transparent and secure way
  • To let countries, businesses and citizens of the world link their climate goals
  • To incentivise a country for reducing their emissions by making emission reductions a tradable asset

Collaboration between every country is absolutely vital if we are to hit our global emission reduction targets. Relationships between countries are complex. They range from close ties to mortal enemies. This is why we have to have a system that allows parties to cooperate even when they don’t trust each other and communication has broken down.

We don’t know the political tensions of the future but we do know the cost of not cooperating and failing to stay within 2°C of pre-industrial warming. Carbon transactions, such as UFTs on a blockchain, will involve scarce resources, value and commerce that can easily become catalysts for political meltdown. We must have a future proof system that minimises the risk of political tension, whilst still functioning if communication breaks down between countries.

Photo by Wilco Van Meppelen

Final Thoughts

The Blockchain for Climate Foundation are trying to create a global, incentivised carbon accounting system that motivates countries to reduce their emissions faster. This system is transparent and makes it difficult for countries to hide or lie about their emissions. They are accountable, adding further motivation to reduce emissions. This system doesn’t require trust and will still work if communication breaks down between countries in the future. Sadly, history states this is highly likely.

Putting the Paris Agreement on a blockchain will not solve all our problems. Reducing our global emissions in line with targets requires many different complex solutions that all work together.

We can be optimistic though. We are trying to create another powerful tool to help us work together. The key to solving our environmental problems is a level of global cooperation that human history has never seen before. It is here that we must concentrate our efforts.

More reading from this author:

Blockchain And Water: Everything You Need To Know.

Blockchain And Energy: Everything You Need To Know.

Time to start a conversation

I want to hear your thoughts. Let me know what you think about putting the Paris Agreement on the blockchain below.

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