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Why Blockchain Holds the Key to a Greener Planet

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Speaker 1 [00:00:03] Hey there, I was going for a walk along the waterfront the other day, which is the only thing we Ontarians can really do nowadays, looking out at Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands. And it made me think about what this past year has brought into focus in terms of our natural environment. There were positive environmental effects from some of the pandemic lockdown measures, clouds of pollution, lifting waters, clearing animals, venturing into quieter cities, and it felt like the earth finally had a chance to breathe. It’s made many people wonder, myself included, are these temporary changes something that can be sustained and if so, how? I’m Trinh Theresa Do, please call me Teresa, I’m sitting in for John Stackhouse, and this is Disruptors and RBC podcast.

Climate change feels like it is the singular issue of our time and a massive problem that needs to be solved, but the challenge when it comes to our air, our water and our earth, there are so many different approaches and stakeholders with so many different and often competing interests and success metrics and the need to find ways of coordinating and collaborating across organizations and across borders is critical. So on this special Earth Day episode, we’re going to explore block chain and how various block chain driven programs might just help us find better ways to work together in our fight against climate change. And just so we’re all on the same page. I’m going to quickly bring in a clip from my colleague, Kaushik Venkatadri. He is the senior director for the Blockchain Centre of Excellence at RBC. And this is his definition of blockchain,

Speaker 2 [00:02:00] blockchain is a technology for creating trust. It allows two parties to safely conduct a transaction or shared data, even if they don’t trust each other.

Speaker 1 [00:02:11] For more on this idea of blockchain as a climate change fighting tool, we’re joined by two guests today. Joseph Pallant is the founder of Blockchain for Climate Foundation, and Joseph has been working in the carbon market space for more than 15 years. Welcome to disruptors, Joseph.

Speaker 3 [00:02:26] Thank you, Theresa. Great to be here.

Speaker 1 [00:02:28] And also here with us today is Carolyn Dubois. She is the executive director of the water program at the Gordon Foundation and has led the development of a key initiative called Datastream. Hello and welcome to Disruptors.

Speaker 4 [00:02:40] Thanks, Theresa. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1 [00:02:42] So before we get into the specifics here, it is an Earth Day episode, and I’m hoping to ask you, Carolyn, have you always felt connected to environmental causes? Were you one of those kids rescuing birds in your spare time?

Speaker 4 [00:02:55] That’s funny. You should put it that way, because I was definitely that kid. I have rescued many a bird in my time. And I and I would say that I attribute a lot of my interest in the environment to a lot of outdoor education as a kid. So I’ve always been interested in in the environment through canoe tripping and getting out on the water. It’s made me really passionate about environmental issues.

Speaker 1 [00:03:17] I love that small things in your childhood leads you to where you are today. And just of what about you? Has Green always been your favorite color?

Speaker 3 [00:03:26] It has. I grew up in British Columbia, a mix of on the coast and in the interior and have loved camping from an early age. Also benefited from amazing environmental education through the Earth program in grade 11. And Vernon, where we did a whole half year outdoors.

Speaker 1 [00:03:43] So, Joseph, can you tell us in a nutshell what the mission of your organization is?

Speaker 3 [00:03:48] So I’m the director of climate innovation at Ecotrust Canada, as well as the founder of Blockchain for Climate Foundation. And together we’ve put together we’re calling it the block chain for Climate Partnership, and we’re really bringing in the work of these two sort of missions of these two organizations to build a tool that we can move forward on climate, of course, with Action for Climate Foundation. We’ve been focused on building a blockchain based platform called the BITMO platform, or blockchain internationally transferred mitigation outcome platform to allow governments of the world to issue and exchange Paris Agreement compliant carbon credits.

Speaker 1 [00:04:30] That’s interesting and I think something will definitely include in our show notes. Carolyn, can you please tell us a little bit about what your organization does as well as datastream?

Speaker 4 [00:04:39] So what Data Stream is is an open access platform for sharing water data. So what I mean by this is this is literally an online site that anybody, anywhere in the world can access. And if you if you visit the site, you’ll have a map based search and you’ll be able to drill down to places you’re interested in and see what data is available there. So I think a lot of people would be surprised to hear that despite huge amounts of effort and energy put into research and monitoring on watersheds across the country, it’s very difficult to get your hands on data about your local watershed. So this has real consequences. So, for example, WWF Canada, in its freshwater health assessments in twenty twenty, found that for 60 percent of Canadian watersheds, there was insufficient data to assess freshwater health. So this is the issue that data stream is really drilled down into and is working to solve. And the reason that this is exciting is that it’s allowing for new connections to be made among researchers and it’s really providing this valuable foundation of data that we’re going to need now and into the future to be able to address environmental changes as they happen.

Speaker 1 [00:05:49] We take a step back. There is a tapestry of challenges and corresponding solutions to combat climate change, and some are focused on actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Others are honed in on mitigating its effects. Others seek to restore damaged ecosystems and so on and so forth. And so if I’m able to ask you, where does your work fit into the broader context, Carolyn will continue with you.

Speaker 4 [00:06:14] Yes, that’s a great question. What datastream is, is it’s really providing this data sharing infrastructure. It’s a neutral home for data, which is so, so important. And so one of the ways that we like to talk about our work is we think about, you know, the ideal scenario of what we call the data policy cycle. The idea that somebody goes out and monitors makes the data available. That data can then be interpreted and turned into knowledge. So by researchers saying, OK, well, here’s what’s happening in this watershed. And that can then point to solutions or new policies. So data stream really sits in that place in the data policy cycle, which is just serving up data on a neutral platform. So once you have that kind of infrastructure, all of a sudden all kinds of other things become possible. So you can start to point to solutions like we need to plant within this watershed in order to improve water quality, or these are the best management practices within this agricultural region that are really going to reduce algal blooms. We see ourselves as as working with those who are collecting with data, making it available so that we can inform that action on the ground. That’s really sort of the reason behind this fascination. And I’d say obsession with data might see that data stream has in.

Speaker 1 [00:07:34] Joseph, what about yourself? What makes the work of block chain for climate important?

Speaker 3 [00:07:39] The work at Blockchain for Climate Foundation and through the Election for Climate Partnership is focused on connecting the supply of emission reduction outcomes potentials with the demand and the capital to get it done. So we know that there’s vast opportunity for protecting forests, for managing forests better, for restoring forests. We know that there is opportunities for renewable energy that take place in other parts of the world. That simply wouldn’t happen without more carbon finance. There’s there’s projects everywhere around the world that can help us beat climate change. The issue has been how do we raise capital and demand to get those done? The Paris Agreement, Article six talks about and really sets the stage for trading of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes. It most you can just think of it as carbon credits that are achieved in one place and transferred to the other. And so the Paris agreement already is setting the stage for governments and and other individuals to be investing across country lines in emission reduction outcomes. What our system is trying to do is operationalize Article six of the Paris agreement, enable cross-border transactions where money gets spent, reduces emissions, and then the credit for that is transferred back to a country or a party that needs to reduce its emissions and then that that cycle can roll on.


Speaker 1 [00:09:13] And hearing you describe that, it resonates with me. In my past life, I was a project manager and this is very clearly a project management challenge. And so I guess I’m curious why block chain? Why is a distributed ledger the tool of choice for for reaching the solutions?

Speaker 3 [00:09:34] That is a great question. With a bit more platform, we enable governments to issue and exchange carbon credits that will be used under the Paris Agreement onto the block chain. We’re using non fungible tokens or NFTs to achieve this task where you can pack in all of the information about your carbon credit pack in the documents that certify that it’s real and then issue it out into the space. And you can transact with our platform or you can use one of the public platforms like Open Sea to engage with this as well. And so what it really does is it allows governments a tool to package up and enable for trade, green light for trade emission reduction outcomes that are achieved in their country. And it can run on the rails of the block chain with the clarity needed to dig in as much as you need to because of all of what we can pack into an NFT.

Speaker 4 [00:10:31] So the way that we use block chain as part of our platform, as part of the datastream platform, it’s really to ensure that there’s trust in the data and in the system. So how this works is that when somebody uploads data, it gets hashed and essentially you have a fingerprint of that data set and that’s then stored on the Ethereum blockchain. So at any given time, if somebody is looking at a data set, they can compare what they see on the block chain to what’s in our platform and ensure that it hasn’t been tampered with. Trust is so important if you’re asking people to share their data, they need to trust the platform that they’re sharing it with. And that’s really for us where block chain has come in.

Speaker 1 [00:11:09] I think this is starting to help me really understand how blockchain technology can bring greater transparency and accountability to the fight against climate change. And when we come back, we’re going to explore how these initiatives could extend beyond Canada’s borders for truly global impact. You’re listening to Disruptors, an RBC podcast, I’m Teresa Do, sitting in for John Stackhouse. In every episode, we reveal the opportunities ahead for Canadian businesses and how many are already making international waves. We also profile programs you may not be aware of. Over the past two years, the RBC Tech For Nature Initiative has donated 20 million dollars to partners just like Datastream and Blockchain for Climate Foundation in 2021. It has received almost 150 applications from others hoping to make the world a better place. If you’d like to learn more about NBC’s commitment to sustainability. I’d encourage you to check out our climate blueprint, which we’ll link to in the show notes. And if you’re enjoying this episode, please download our Business of Benevolence episode, which profiles how technology is changing charitable giving. Welcome back to disrupters. I’m Teresa Do guest hosting for John Stackhouse, and I’m here with Joseph Pallant, of blockchain for Climate Foundation and Carolyn Dubois of Datastream. Carolyn, can you clarify something that might be tripping? Some of us lay people up. Isn’t maintaining a block chain platform highly energy intensive as it is with Bitcoin? And doesn’t that run counterproductive in the fight against climate change?

Speaker 4 [00:12:42] It’s something that we’ve been thinking about a lot. And while we use the Ethereum block chain, it does have the same issues around energy consumption. And so what we’ve had to do is we’ve had to design a solution that doesn’t use blockchain. So often we’ve had to make a trade off of when are we going to use it? And the answer for us has been we’ll use it just enough for the for the parts of our transactions so that we can guarantee that data integrity. Now, we’re really excited for Ethereum 2.0 and proof of stake, which is coming. Proof of stake will allow for the energy use to go down in huge ways. It’ll be insignificant once proof of stake is launched. So we’re anxiously awaiting that day. And when that happens, we’re really excited because we think they’ll be even more uses for block chain. But, you know, these are things that we haven’t wanted to do until we’ve seen that energy consumption can come down.

Speaker 3 [00:13:37] I truly believe that the Ethereum blockchain is going to solve its emissions issues. And I’m trying to help it move beyond that and have some of those creative minds that work in Ethereum use their tools, use their skills to go beyond just getting to zero carbon and moving onwards to see what kind of impacts Ethereum can have on beating climate change farther and farther. Beyond that, it’s not the Ethereum block chain has no emissions are using. It has no emissions. It’s that fundamentally the theory and block chain does have emissions. There’s work being done to address and reduce and eventually completely do away with those emissions. That work is underway and really exciting to see happen. We see that the innovation and the power of the theory and block chain is so compelling that we are using this tool to build our platform with the comfort that it will not be causing extra climate emissions either because we’re able to do it in a very low carbon way through layer two scaling or proof of stake, or because we will offset any excess emissions that are caused by our project.

Speaker 1 [00:14:45] One of the things about climate change is that it doesn’t recognize national borders. And so Carolynn much of data streams work focuses on Lake Winnipeg, Canada, second largest watershed, which takes in water that then flows through four U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. And with block chain you have the data, but there’s a lack of control over legislation, politics or even physical factors on the ground affecting freshwater health, especially because these areas cross borders. How is blocking effective against these jurisdictional obstacles?

Speaker 4 [00:15:17] That’s a great question. And one of the things we talk about a lot when it comes to water management is, of course, that water doesn’t respect jurisdictional boundaries and managing it requires collaboration not just across national and international boundaries, but also across sectors. When you are collaborating in making water management decisions, one of the foundational things that’s needed is data, reliable data that you can use as fodder for informed conversations. So this is really what data stream is providing. And I want to touch on something that you said. We’re not you know, we don’t have control on the ground. And I think that’s absolutely true. And I’m based in Toronto and I do my work here. But the data stream is is being carried out in the Mackenzie based in the Lake Winnipeg, based in Atlantic Canada. All places I’m not in the way are coming to the Great Lakes. But I should say that part of what’s what’s so important about Data Stream is our regional partnerships. So in the Lake Winnipeg basin, for example, we partner with the Lake Winnipeg Foundation. And now, while I may not be on the ground, and while data stream may be existing in the ether online, there are real people who are out there and they’re collecting data about their local watersheds. People really, really care about their local waters and their best place to see changes as they happen. And this is a really powerful movement that we’re seeing.

Speaker 1 [00:16:41] And how is this data and information been effective in incentivizing the right behaviors?

Speaker 4 [00:16:47] When you’re having conversations about water management in the Lake Winnipeg basin, for example, the big issue there is eutrophication. The lake literally has so much algae that it’s it’s it’s causing major problems not just for the ecosystem, but also for people. And people who are using the water is now one of the problems is, as you said, that water makes its way through all of these jurisdictional boundaries. And the question that you then ask yourself is, Will, what’s causing these these algal blooms? And you really need data in. In order to be able to pinpoint those areas where, you know, you can invest in the entire basin, in remediation, in the entire basin, we need to really focus in those places where we’ll get the biggest bang for our buck in terms of reducing, for example, nutrients coming off the land.

Speaker 1 [00:17:36] Joseph, I’d like to turn back to you after market. Are the national parties or those ministries of energies worldwide? And I’m so curious, what has been the reception from those parties to the medium of exchange that you’ve described?

Speaker 3 [00:17:50] When we speak with national parties, as well as engage in meetings like the U.N. climate cops that happen and engage with people in the space, the the interest varies. And I think that as time has moved forward, there has been more acceptance and understanding of this new fangled technology of blockchain. And I also I’m looking forward to the next set of international meetings after this boom in understanding around non fungible tokens and AFTRS, because I think that that discussion has had legs. And finally, the discussion around the climate impact of Ethereum and and certain blockchains I also think has carried. And so being able to refine our discussion and clarify how our system is addressing those issues is really important. We’re targeting national parties. We’re targeting countries for our National Party working group to collaborate on building this out and eventually implementing our platform with countries that are natural buyers, sellers or our market makers, middlemen in the carbon market space so that the countries that are most likely to be interested in using a block chain based platform are going to be the same countries that actually just want to get going with the carbon markets and with international collaboration. Under the Paris Agreement, we know that Switzerland is really keen to buy. Chile is really keen to sell. They’re talking about and making announcements that they’ll be transferring most. But we know that there won’t be a system in place likely for quite a number of years. Yet if we don’t do something to try to speed that up and provide an alternate pathway,

Speaker 1 [00:19:34] that’s really interesting and definitely food for thought. Carolyn, you mentioned that Datastream is is open access. And I’m I’m wondering, have you seen just the fact that anybody can can check out the tool? Has that led to encouragement of the parties that are not moving as fast as they should?

Speaker 4 [00:19:56] Yeah, I would say that it’s been really exciting and I’m optimistic that we’ll continue on this path. There’s a huge cultural shift is taking place around sharing data. So I would say even five years ago, the resistance to put, for example, a researcher for them to put their water quality data on a platform like this and make it available for everybody to use, regardless of the questions that they’re asking about a watershed that has changed dramatically in the time that we’ve been working on this. And I do think trust is a really big, important part of that and that transparency that block chain brings. But I would say there’s yeah, there’s a huge cultural shift taking place. There’s a huge shift as well around who’s doing science. You know, more and more we’re starting to see you know, we’re hearing governments say, of course, we’ll use community based water monitoring data. You know, this idea that it can only be done by bona fide scientists, you know, that’s really changing. And I and it’ll change the way, you know, with with time, it’ll change, you know, what solutions we’re able to come up with for a lot of these environmental challenges.

Speaker 1 [00:21:02] And Canada has set a net zero emissions target for 2050. What are your hopes for what can be achieved on that front in the next 30 years?

Speaker 4 [00:21:09] Had a lot of time to reflect, thanks to covid just on how much this pandemic has changed our behaviors and how we think. And we’ve hit the pause button and started to explore our own backyards, our neighborhoods, our parks. You know, nearby, we’re traveling less for work. So I’m I’m really curious to see, you know, with this opportunity to step back, if we’ll start to ask ourselves, is a vacation once every two years abroad? You know, is that enough? And and I think that that sort of broad shift in terms of behavior within the population will be really interesting to see what happens there. And then more generally, in terms of technology, I’m I’m more optimistic than I have been in years. You know, when you’re seeing GM really looking at churning out electric vehicles, all electric vehicles, you know, that’s a huge shift. I’m hearing people who I never would have thought were environmentally minded or green saying that they really want an electric vehicle. That makes me excited and optimistic. And then finally, the fact that solar is now the cheapest. Energy in history, I believe it’s been it was declared last year. I mean, if that’s not cause for some optimism, I don’t know what is. So, yeah, I hope that we achieve our targets and exceed them in the next 30 years.

Speaker 1 [00:22:32] Hmm. It does it really does feel like a watershed, pardon the pun, moments here. Joseph, in 30 years, your four year old and newborn son will be all grown up and with possible children of their own. What do you hope to be able to tell them what we have done to fight climate change?

Speaker 3 [00:22:49] I earnestly hope that I can tell my sons that I have done everything that I could, that I could work as smart and as hard, and accessed as much wisdom from other people as well and fed that into making sure that humanity is avoiding the worst of the possibilities from the climate crisis. I also will say to my sons in 30 years from now and along the way and encourage everyone listening is to be courageous in your work, to fight climate change, be courageous in your work, to make the world a better place. However, you choose to do it because the problems that are facing us are real. And we’ve known about them for some time and there is optimism and hope, but there is a lot left to do and to truly bend that curve into a reality that is going to be OK for society and for the planet. We need to work hard, so be courageous and work hard,

Speaker 1 [00:23:53] inspiring and uplifting notes to end on. Carolyn Dubois is the executive director of the water program at the Gordon Foundation and the lead on developing datastream. I appreciate your time, Carolyn.

Speaker 4 [00:24:04] Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1 [00:24:06] Joseph Pallant is the founder and executive director of Blockchain for Climate Foundation. And thanks for joining us today on disruptors.

Speaker 3 [00:24:13] It’s a pleasure. Thank you.

Speaker 1 [00:24:14] And I’m Theresa Do. Thanks for listening to Disruptors an RBC podcast. We’ll make sure to include lots of links in the show, notes to the things we talked about in today’s episode in case you want to learn more. And in the meantime, please let me wish you a very happy Earth Day.

Speaker 4 [00:24:34] Disruptors, an RBC podcast is created by the RBC Thought Leadership Group and does not constitute a recommendation for any organization, product or service, it’s produced and recorded by our audio for more disruptors, content like or subscribe or ever you get your podcasts and visit RBC Dotcom Slash Disruptors.

If people know anything about blockchain technology, it’s the astounding appreciation in the value of bitcoin in recent months—a cryptocurrency that uses blockchain as a way of transparently and instantaneously recording peer-to-peer payments. But blockchain is much more than mere financial tool. And according to many people invested in the environmental sector, it might just hold the key to better climate change solutions.

In this special Earth Day episode of Disruptors, guest host Trinh Theresa Do speaks with two experts who know the climate beat well: Joseph Pallant, founder of the Blockchain for Climate Foundation and director of climate innovation for Ecotrust Canada; and Carolyn DuBois, executive director of The Water Program of The Gordon Foundation.

While technology is no panacea—and our guests confront the very real issue of blockchain’s environmental cost, as well as its many benefits—the work of Joseph and Carolyn promises a brighter and greener future for many people around the world.

Notes:

RBC Tech for Nature is RBC’s multi-year commitment to preserving our natural ecosystem, and works with partners to leverage technology and innovation capabilities to solve pressing environmental challenges. Learn more here. To read RBC’s Climate Blueprint, click here.

For details on Blockchain for Climate—and how Joseph and his team are using the BITMO platform to issue and exchange climate credits—click here. For more on EcoTrust Canada, which partners with Blockchain for Climate to implement its blockchain project, click here. Joseph also talks about “Article 6″ from the Paris Agreement; if you want to do a deep dive into that seminal international agreement, click here.

For more information on what Datastream is doing to ensure cleaner waters, click here. Carolyn cites a study from WWF-Canada, and how little is known about the quality of watershed health in Canada; more about that study can be discovered here.

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Sources

1. Originally published by RBC Thought Leadership (April 22, 2021)  Why Blockchain Holds the Key to a Greener Planet