While the word ‘blockchain’ has become synonymous with the buzz surrounding the ‘bitcoin’ craze, distributed ledger technologies have a wide range of potential applications, including the possibility to track city, region, and company pledges to reduce emissions, support adaptation, and unlock finance to address  climate change.

On Thursday, Nov. 22, at the Alan Turing Institute (ATI) in London, Director Angel Hsu teamed up with Associate Professor Thomas Hale of Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government and Odysseas Sclavounis, a joint PhD student at the Oxford Internet Institute and the ATI, to convene a ‘design sprint’ to imagine the possibilities for blockchains to innovate how we currently record and assess actions to address climate change, which can be as diverse as an individual city pledging to set an emissions reduction target to companies adopting a carbon price.

Existing measurement and reporting systems are expensive and labor-intensive, frequently requiring third-party consultants. This discourages resource-constrained actors from participating and recording actions in transnational climate action networks or measuring their climate change impacts at all. When networks fail to account for these activities, they miss an opportunity to support and build connections between peer cities, regions, and companies, and to represent their needs and interests to national policymakers and the international community. Including the full scope of climate actors — particularly those working in developing countries, where adaptation will be especially vital and where emissions are projected to rise rapidly — is vital to providing the support need to implement and scale up these activities.   

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 information is vital to understanding how to support and grow the ecosystem of voluntary climate action, and predicting how it can help implement and accelerate national ambition.

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 mobilize 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.

Stay tuned for more updates on this project.