How blockchain can help us meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
In 2015, the United Nations created 17 goals for sustainable development. These interdependent goals would pave the way for a better future for all by 2030. At Web3 Labs, we believe that blockchain can play a pivotal role in meeting these targets. Here are just a few examples of blockchain’s incredible potential to make the world a better place.
One way to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people is to focus on economic resources. Blockchain will offer better access to financial services, using inclusive systems.
With nothing more than a smartphone, individuals can have a store of value and access to payment technology at their fingertips. These will be available in digital currencies, pegged to US dollars or other relatively stable fiat currencies.
The Celo Blockchain is one such example. It provides an open platform to offer financial services to anyone with a smartphone.
In developing countries, cash transfers are often used to reduce hunger. But this comes at a price – distribution is often challenging due to poor financial infrastructure. Likewise, local corruption may prevent the cash from reaching the end recipient. In many cases, these recipients may not have their own bank accounts, or lack the documentation to open one.
Blockchain can help in this distribution of cash. By negating the need for a bank account, blockchain ensures cash reaches its intended beneficiaries. Technology such as biometric identification will guarantee that only the authorised recipient spends the cash.
The World Food Programme has rolled out a blockchain pilot project to aid Syrian refugees. The programme will offer greater access to cash and more choice. This provides greater financial control, making cash transfers simple, without revealing beneficiary information. The move has also fostered collaboration with partners.
Good Health and Wellbeing
Better access to healthcare and medicines improves general health and wellbeing. Blockchain can provide authenticity and quality guarantees for vaccines in pharmaceutical supply chains.
A blockchain can be used to ensure that not only is a batch of supplies genuine, but also that they were handled correctly during transit. For example, it’s imperative to maintain specific temperatures, and ensure supplies are not tampered with.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 1 in 10 medical products in developing countries is substandard or falsified. This presents a huge opportunity for blockchain to help.
Internet access has removed the barriers to high quality educational material for many. In turn, we’re seeing opportunities for upward socioeconomic mobility and reduced poverty.
But there is still work to do. Learners may struggle to prove that they achieved a particular level of competence in their chosen learning material. This is made worse by fraudsters, who may be able to falsify credentials. Blockchain can provide the missing ‘layer of trust’ here.
Academic institutions can guarantee authenticity with blockchain. By issuing grades and qualifications on blockchain, they bypass any opportunity for fraudulent activity. This goes beyond students attending brick and mortar institutions.
Underprivileged individuals may be able to access high quality educational content, but the burden of proof is on them. Blockchain can guarantee their credentials, giving these students better access to employment and further studies.
ODEM is one such provider of online learning. All certifications are stored on the blockchain for those that complete their courses.
A significant disparity still exists between men and women in their access to finance. A disproportionate number of women are still unbanked globally today. The above mentioned access to financial services will serve to address this disparity. Blockchain will provide vulnerable women with access to the resources they need.
Clean Water and Sanitation
Performance-based incentivisation may encourage more communities to promote clean water and sanitation programmes.
Individuals, communities and companies will benefit from a blockchain-based payment system. Those participating in water quality and conservation programmes will be rewarded with ‘credits’. Using fewer pollutants results in financial rewards.
Blockchain can also be used to ensure that the water quality measurements match those taken at source. The technology creates ‘digital fingerprints’ of the readings for subsequent measurement verification.
Deloitte and IBM produced a report in early 2020 on how blockchain can work with IoT to control water pollution. This will ensure that water remains fit for human and agricultural usage.
Affordable and Clean Energy
Greater access to clean energy will reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Clean energy-generating assets, such as solar panels and wind turbines, need to be closely monitored. They also require secure identifiers to communicate with power grids.
By utilising blockchain-based secure identifiers and IoT devices, grid operators have extra assurance. They can be confident that an energy asset communicating with the power grid is indeed the asset in question. Additionally, as with water measurements, they can ensure that the reported energy output matches that which is recorded.
Vodafone partnered with Energy Web to use their SIM-centric blockchain technology (SCB) to identify devices contributing to power grids.
Decent Work and Economic Growth
Blockchain technology and its associated public networks are accessible via the internet. This opens up significant opportunities for knowledgeable entrepreneurs to create blockchain applications. Blockchain will create new opportunities and jobs for anybody, no matter where they are located.
Many individuals and companies around the world are taking this step. For example, many are building the next generation of applications on the Ethereum platform – the ‘World Computer’!
Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Blockchain is an innovation unto itself. Multiple networks are being launched worldwide, supporting economic development. These networks span geographical borders. They are open to anyone with internet access – promoting affordable and equitable access for all.
Driving a number of these innovations are not just companies and networks, but also industry groups such as Hyperledger's Climate Action and Accounting SIG, the Interwork Alliance's Sustainability Business Working Group, the Climate Ledger Initiative, the Climate Chain Coalition, the OpenClimate project and Blockchain for Social Impact.
The world's remittance corridors are used by migrants for sending their money back to their home countries. The figures associated with these payments are staggering. The largest remittance corridor is from the USA to Mexico, which in 2019 was to the tune of $40bn USD. This number is showing no sign of decreasing. The fees associated with these payments are often 4%, which has a huge impact on the actual funds received at the other end.
Apart from profit motives, one of the big contributors to this is that processing global payments between banks is complex. Five to 20% of payments have to be assessed by operations staff before they can go through. This delays payments, resulting in a significant cost to the banks’ payment processing, which is passed onto the end customer.
Blockchain-based payment networks, such as JP Morgan’s Interbank Information Network (IIN), can minimise this disruption. They have developed a mechanism to verify in real time that a payment is going to a valid account. This minimises rejections later on, for example due to an error in an account number, sort code, address or any other detail of the transaction.
Sustainable Cities and Communities
Blockchain, alongside AI, 5G and IoT technology, are the key building blocks for smarter and more sustainable cities. 5G hyper connectivity will facilitate innovations such as:
- Enabling idle electric vehicles to contribute their spare battery capacity to power grids
- Rewarding workers who use sustainable transportation to travel to their place of work.
Bosch is leading a number of initiatives in this field. These will allow devices to communicate with one another independently via smart contracts on the blockchain. They refer to this as the “economy of things”. Some of the benefits include automatically billing vehicle owners for toll road usage, electric vehicle charging, and parking.
Responsible Consumption and Production
The push to encourage sustainable practices in large companies has been gathering momentum for some time. Both shareholders and investors are now incentivising these organisations to update their practices.
Assets in sustainable investment products in Europe are projected to reach €7.6tn over the next 5 years. In particular, we will see unprecedented ESG (environmental, sustainability and corporate governance) funds by 2025. Both those investing in ESG funds and the managers of those funds need assurance. It’s imperative that the companies they invest in behave sustainably.
Providing this transparency requires accurate reporting, which comes with a significant paper trail. Such practices ensure that the ESG initiatives’ companies are acting on their word, adhering to claims such as carbon offsetting.
Blockchain has a significant opportunity to simplify this reporting process. Organisations can use blockchain to verify reports of ESG activities, be they by an environmental project a company is buying carbon offsets from, or their own internal activities. Investors can be confident in these companies’ environmental practices, using blockchain’s tamper-proof reporting.
With ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions, more communities are working hard to reduce their climate footprint. One way to do this is with voluntary carbon offsets. These reduce greenhouse emissions by counteracting them, for example planting trees or using renewable energy.
When projects create or mint carbon offsets, the buyer needs to be certain that the claims are genuine. These offsets are usually verified by a standards body. Gold Standard, Verra, the American Carbon Registry and the Climate Action Reserve are the best-known bodies.
Once again, this requires a reporting paper trail. At the point of creation, the project creating the offset can use blockchain to record information at source. Standards bodies can then verify this information and assure buyers (such as businesses) that the offset creation is genuine.
The World Bank’s Climate Warehouse is currently developing a blockchain-based meta-registry. This will connect climate market systems spanning country, regional and institutional registries, to increase transparency and build trust in climate markets. In turn, this will prevent ‘double counting’ mitigation outcomes, such as carbon offsets.
Life Below Water
Blockchain can have monumental impacts on overfishing and destructive fishing practices. By providing greater transparency of the fishing supply chain, we can determine the stock’s point of origin. This helps us to validate the sustainability practices of the producer. Capturing this information on a blockchain gives end consumers more confidence in the origins of the food on their plate. It also gives us a better understanding of fishing practices.
Provenance is one such company that has used blockchain to trace yellowfin and skipjack tuna fish from, catch to consumer.
Life on Land
Tackling deforestation and desertification is key to sustaining a healthy planet. Incentives and monitoring are vital to prevent illegal logging and other destructive practices. According to the World Bank, illegal logging accounts for as much as 90% of all logging in some countries.
Blockchain can provide greater transparency and traceability of the wood trade. The Wood Tracking Protocol is doing exactly this to help save the Amazon rainforest. In Peru, much of the timber tracking is done with paper. The Wood Tracking Protocol has created a digital blockchain system to replace this paper-based method, allowing buyers to verify the legitimacy of the timber.
This traceability system goes a long way in ensuring buyer confidence. With better transparency comes a reduction in illegal logging operations.
Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Only 46% of Sub-Saharan Africans have had their births registered. Digital birth registration systems are being used to help improve this number. Blockchain can improve this further by providing ‘uniqueness guarantees’ to accompany these records. Biometric data in the blockchain offers authenticity and transparency.
These digital identities can then aid a ‘self-sovereign identity’. Individuals can create and control credentials without sharing personal information.
This ‘blockchain-based identity’ is being developed by W3C’s Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs) and supported in industry by the Decentralized Identify Foundation (DIF).
Blockchain-based digital identities don’t just provide an identity. They also put the owner in control of their own data. This is especially compelling for the identity owners, providing greater assurances as we transition to digital identities.
Partnerships for the Goals
For any blockchain deployment to succeed, there have to be partnerships underpinning them. These may be industry, government or non-profit groups, at a local, national or even global level.
Without this level of partnership, we remain as we are, with data silos thriving behind closed doors and reducing efficiencies. Of course, not all data can be shared. However, we should share any data that we can to get the most out of blockchain. By extension, we will help address these 17 goals, including: Ending poverty, Protecting the planet, Providing access to better prospects, and Improving lives.
None of this will happen without the right legislation and government support. Our goal is to build greater awareness of blockchain and its myriad opportunities. We believe this technology is a force for good, demonstrated by its ability to meet these sustainable development goals.