Blockchain for climate action tracking

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Angel Hsu, GEG Visiting Scholar and director of Data-Driven Yale, and Associate Professor Tom Hale recently joined forces with the Oxford Internet Institute, running a hackathon on whether blockchains can be used to help solve climate change problems.

Cities, states and regions (i.e., subnational actors), as well as business, investors and civil society (i.e., non-state actors) are increasingly recognised for their ability to catalyse, implement, and innovate climate actions. In some cases, these efforts go beyond or are more ambitious than national governments’ commitments. Quantitatively assessing and tracking these efforts, however, is fraught with difficulties. The primary challenge is the lack of transparent, accurate, and timely data to track and evaluate their impact. Where data are available, they are often inconsistent and incomplete. Available data are also biased towards actors located in developed countries, leading to major knowledge gaps in emerging economies and developing countries whose climate emissions already outpace their industrialised counterparts.

Data-Driven Yale, a team of interdisciplinary researchers, has made some major headway in tracking climate action by establishing the world’s most comprehensive database that includes more than 15,000 actors taking over 96,000 actions on climate change. They have partnered with all of the major networks of non-state and subnational actors, including CDP, C40 Cities for Climate Leadership, ICLEI Local Leaders for Sustainability, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They have published academic studies in Nature and Nature Climate Change, as well as major reports that have been featured in high-level summits, including the 2015 Paris Climate Change Summit and the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. The media has also heavily cited their research, from The Economist, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and others.

Existing measurement and reporting systems are labor-intensive and costly, frequently requiring third-party consultants, which discourage resource-constrained actors from participating and recording actions in transnational climate action networks or measuring their climate change impacts at all. Furthermore, there is a limited scientific and information base, and no comprehensive accounting system for understanding 1) what incentives lead climate actors to report high-quality data on actions and policies in a transparent and timely manner; 2) how these efforts are being implemented; 3) how various actors and actions interact with and relate to each other, and to national governments; 4) and whether these actions are leading to measurable, additional greenhouse gas reductions at the global scale.

This workshop convened a group of climate action policy experts, together with those interested and knowledgeable in blockchain and distributed ledger technology to investigate questions around how a blockchain-based system might solve existing problems with climate action tracking; the design components needed to mobilise a “Blockchain for Climate Action Tracking” system; how to design a governance system to ensure participants are fairly represented, and that the system remains accountable; and how to get people onboard.