The 'Fourth Industrial Revolution', that includes blockchain, AI, virtual reality and the Internet of Things, could, says the WEF report, be transformative environmental 'game-changers.’ Photo: iStock
The 'Fourth Industrial Revolution', that includes blockchain, AI, virtual reality and the Internet of Things, could, says the WEF report, be transformative environmental 'game-changers.’ Photo: iStock

A World Economic Forum report argues that blockchain can help solve the planet’s “most pressing” environmental issues. The report, called Building Block(chain)s for a Better Planet, has been published as part of a World Economic Forum’s (WEF) “Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Earth” series that examines how the “convergence of the digital, physical and biological realms” can be harnessed to help better manage humanity’s “shared global environment.”

This series of insight papers has brought together environmental and tech experts to look at how emerging technologies, that include Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI), can bring about seismic “societal shifts” and the Building Blocks report, published last week, argues that blockchain is one such transformative “game-changer’ that has the potential to address climate change, biodiversity loss and water scarcity.

“As a result of the ‘great acceleration’ in human economic activity since the mid-20th century,” says the report, “which has yielded impressive improvements in human welfare, research from many Earth-system scientists suggests that life on land could now be entering a period of unprecedented environmental systems change.”

According to the WEF, this presents clear challenges but also offers a game-changing opportunity to harness blockchain – and the other innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – to address six of today’s most pressing environmental challenges that demand transformative action: climate change, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, ocean-health deterioration, air pollution and water scarcity.

The report talked with industry, big tech, entrepreneurs, academics and governments to identify more than “65 existing and emerging blockchain use-cases for the environment” and found the technology particularly relevant where it enabled transitions to “cleaner and more efficient decentralized systems; peer-to-peer trading of resources or permits; supply-chain transparency and management; new financing models for environmental outcomes; and the realization of non-financial value and natural capital.”

“Many of these opportunities extend far beyond ‘tech for good’ considerations and are connected to global economic, industrial and human systems,” writes the WEF. “Blockchain provides a strong potential to unlock and monetize value that is currently embedded (but unrealized) in environmental systems, and there is a clear gap within the market.”

However, transformative changes do “not happen automatically” says the report, but instead require “deliberate collaboration between diverse stakeholders ranging from technology industries through to environmental policy-makers, underpinned by new platforms that can support these stakeholders to advance not just a technology application, but the systems shift that will enable it to truly take hold … if we get it right,” concludes the WEF, “it could create a sustainability revolution.”

The nonprofit World Economic Forum, that is based in Switzerland and says its mission is to “improve the state of the world” by engaging “the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas,” produced the Building Blocks report in collaboration with global accountancy firm PwC and the American Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The WEF is best known for its meeting in January every year at the mountain resort of Davos in the eastern Alps region of Switzerland that brings together more than 2,000 business and political leaders, economists and celebrities to discuss global issues.