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Hackathon explores ways blockchain can tackle climate change

A team finalising their idea at Hack4Climate hackathon
A team finalising their idea at Hack4Climate hackathon

Blockchain is increasingly enabling a number of disruptive innovations working to tackle climate change in areas like identifying and tracking emissions, carbon pricing, distributed energy, sustainable land use, and sustainable transport.

Following on from a number of blockchain co-creation events and workshops around the world earlier this year, 100 of the top distributed ledger technology and blockchain talents from 30 countries came together for Hack4Climate, a 24-hour hackathon held next to the COP23 climate change conference.

Twenty groups came up with a range of ideas to tackle climate change, and Climate-KIC’s Daily Planet was there to see the action. Below are some of the propositions emerging from the event:

A low-carbon end-to-end transport system

Autonomi describes itself as the anti-Uber. Despite companies like Uber claiming they would reduce car ownership, Autonomi argues that it has actually led to increase of 600 million vehicles miles. To come up with an idea that really reduces emissions, the team created a new type of mobility service which enables existing public transport and private transport to complement each other, resulting in less vehicles on the road and less carbon footprint.

The end-to-end transport booking and payment platform allows users to transition between public and private transport. Blockchain would be used to negotiate payment mechanisms in a system with so many stakeholders, allowing users to offset the carbon footprint of their travel, take out short-term insurance, and collect data for better freight delivery and public transport planning.

A more efficient REDD+

Another winning team, Gain Forest, wants to incentivise anyone in the world to become a caretaker of the Amazon rainforest (and is now looking for partners for a pilot project).

The team built a blockchain-based payment system to transfer money from donors to caretakers, so anyone can see their cash is going directly to forest protection. Gain Forest is planning a website that allows anyone to pledge money to protect a certain area of rainforest, which can be then released when satellite data verifies if trees are still in place.

During the hackathon the team realised it could use data to train a computer to predict what bits of the Amazon rainforest were at risk of deforestation, and then use the model to boost payments to protect forest in areas of higher deforestation.

Reducing energy use of Bitcoin

Bitcoin mining is the process through which bitcoin transactions are verified and added to the blockchain, and the way new bitcoin are released (by solving computationally difficult puzzles). However, the number of bitcoins released is designed to halve every four years, so an increasing amount of computing power and thus energy is being used to mine each bitcoin.

To tackle the climate impact, one team decided to find the climate cost of a bitcoin transaction to help make a low-carbon cryptocurrency choice.

Using a cryptocurrency wallet to monitor bitcoin transactions, they designed a product that identifies what place in the world a block was mined, thus giving an idea of a climate impact. Purchasers are then able to choose low-carbon cryptocurrency coin, thus incentivising miners to reduce their energy use.

To capitalise on the high energy use of mining, a separate hackathon project envisaged using excess solar energy and idle computers to mine bitcoin. When the sun shines, a region may have more than enough energy to go around, making the price low for computers to mine “clean coins”.

Low carbon diamonds

Another team, Chain 4 Change aims to use blockchain to track the carbon consumption of diamond production. Its idea aims to raise awareness to make them know how much energy was consumed, so customers can choose the most environmentally friendly option.

Blockchain would help track the mining, cutting, polishing done, unique to each diamond and be available to purchasers. It could also certify a carbon offset for the diamond automatically on purchase and help a diamond company improve efficiency and save money.

Online purchasing 

One retail project took form as a browser plug-in to help indicate more environmentally responsible retailers. For example, the plug-in could provide information to users exploring car rental on carbon consumption versus speed.

The project also draws on the idea of gamification, with user behaviour online captured and benchmarked against others, so that users can compete with friends via social media to reduce impact. An added bonus is as users reduce consumption, they would receive credits to spend in certain stores.

Giving low-income farmers a better deal

Agrichain wants to use blockchain to improve food productivity by bringing small-scale farmers into the formal economy. A farmer would upload information, see what price they should be selling their produce at, and get connected with retailers and consumers in the local area.

Blockchain, with transparency and immutability, helps overcome trust issues. Blockchain also provides evidence of farmers’ transactions, which supports their case for financing by institutions.

Storytelling, distributed energy, grid for islands, sustainable transport

Other winning teams include Planet Life, exploring how gamification and incentivisation can help prevent deforestation. Evoke, looking at how blockchain can help people affected by climate change to communicate with the rest of the world to take action, and Balcony box, which explored hyper-local air quality monitoring.

Team also used open APIs to connect energy sources and consumers to enable people to buy energy from small producers or grid energy for islands to manage multiple energy sources.

Helping the Paris Agreement directly

Hack4Climate has successfully built a community of people building climate change solutions using the blockchain.

The organisers hope that the hackathon, and the ideas coming out of it will send a message to negotiators that once the details of the Paris Agreement have been put in place, there is a bottom-up movement ready to help implement it.

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