Can blockchain help make the UAE greener?

14/02/2023 by Ali Sajwani

Regular readers of this blog will know of my deep passion for all things blockchain and for sustainable business. 

The blockchain, of course, is a type of shared, immutable ledger that enables us to digitally record transactions and track assets in a business network. 

A lot has already been written about the vast amounts of energy consumed by the blockchain, when it is used to verify crypto transactions and record ownership of NFTs, for example. But that awareness is driving new energy sources – such as solar – to power the huge server farms that enable all the crypto mining and transactions. 

While many of us immediately associate blockchain with the emerging crypto sector, that same technology can actually be used to solve some environmental problems. If adopted globally, analysts argue it could even help stop or reverse climate change.

Given that the unchangeable databases that form blockchains make it possible to track and verify transactions and interactions without a centralised authority, this can significantly increase the transparency and efficiency of environmental projects.

Environmental treaties can be tracked in real-time, including compliance monitoring. Fraud will decrease. 

How can we monitor the real impact of environmental treaties? Globally, corporations and governments put such treaties on the ‘back burner’, especially where there is no incentive for regular progress reporting or to keep their pledges. Fraud – and data manipulation – are problematic in this area.

But blockchain can discourage those signing up for treaties from avoiding their environmental promises or misreporting progress. The technology allows for transparent tracking of critical environmental data and can readily reveal if promises and pledges were met. Once data is entered into the public blockchain, it stays there forever.

Of course, storing legal documents on the blockchain cuts down on fraud and manipulation. For example, the global carbon credits scheme: an immutable record of credits bought and sold means corporations and governments could track carbon credits used in bribes or sold illegally.

Carbon taxes can be calculated, monitored and perhaps a corporate reputation system could be created in relation to emission monitoring.

For instance, under the current system, it is difficult to assess a product’s environmental impact, and carbon footprint is not taken into account when determining price. This means consumers have little motivation to purchase goods with a minimal carbon footprint, and businesses have less reason to market such goods.

By using blockchain to track a product’s carbon footprint, we can prevent data from being altered and use it to calculate the appropriate carbon tax to impose at the time of sale. Customers would be more likely to purchase products with lower carbon footprints if they were cheaper. A more carbon-intense product would be more expensive. 

The blockchain also allows for supply chain tracking, which helps reduce unsustainable practices and carbon footprint from origin to final product. 

But how do we, as consumers, know a product is truly ethically made? This information is often either unavailable or difficult to validate. Sadly, many companies do massage the truth about product manufacture and what is used in the manufacturing process. 

A Blockchain can track products from manufacturer to shelf, and so help prevent fraud, unethical practices and waste by making supply chains more transparent. And if consumers are then better informed on how each product is created and shipped, they can make more environmentally aware choices with greater ease. 

Even recycling could fall within the remit of a blockchain – by enabling a tokenised reward tracking system.

Current recycling programmes don’t generally offer good incentives to participate. Responsibility for running such programmes often falls on local authorities, meaning there’s great variety in the strength and effectiveness of such programmes, and they’re difficult to track and measuring their overall impact is troublesome. 

A Blockchain-based recycling programme, however, might encourage participation by offering financial rewards – cryptographic tokens – for depositing recyclables like plastic water bottles or cans. And they already exist, but haven’t achieved global reach yet. 

Transparent tracking of data points such as volume, cost and profit is made much easier, along with evaluation of the impact of each location, organisation or individual participating.

Energy usage can also be monitored, with a blockchain-based system improving access to power where and when it’s most needed.

Traditionally, power supply grids are centralised, which sometimes creates inefficiencies in energy distribution, like having unused surplus. In nations affected by natural disasters or poverty, power outages leave people without ready access to electricity.

A Blockchain-based energy system reduces the need to transmit electricity over long distances, which can result in losses over the distance. It also reduces the need for energy storage, because energy trading can move electricity locally from where it’s being produced in excess to where it’s needed.

It seems to me, as always, that technology is there for our benefit, and to help us achieve some powerful goals. It’s up to us how we embrace technology such as blockchain to enable a better future for all!

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