This is a guest opinion post from Kieren James-Lubin, co-founder and CEO, BlockApps
Global leaders recently discussed the state of emissions at COP26 in Glasgow and made agreements on how to move forward to hopefully limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C. Simultaneously, the Washington Post continued its reporting on the real state of emissions and rendered their promises hollow. The Post’s examination of nearly 200 country reports revealed massive discrepancies between declared emissions versus the real amount of greenhouse gases released into the planet’s atmosphere, ranging from at least 8.5 billion to 13.3 billion tons a year. This gap is big enough to impact predictions of how much the Earth will warm.
Why don’t we understand this problem in 2021, and how do we go about fixing it? The answer lies in leveraging recent technology innovations in the fight against climate change. For instance, blockchain is emerging as a powerful tool to help businesses understand what the real emissions numbers are, which the Net Zero Scotland Community highlighted in their Future Series during COP26.
Why are the real numbers so hard to determine?
There are several factors that complicate the process of measuring and tracking greenhouse gas emissions. For starters, there’s the multitude of data sources that exist throughout the supply chain, varied regulations and emissions standards across regions (never mind countries), and the diversity of formulas, calculations, and models to measure carbon emissions.
All of this makes for a convoluted, opaque approach to measurement and reporting that prevents business and government leaders from knowing what the true numbers are. So, it’s no big surprise that there are significant reporting discrepancies. For businesses and governments to meet their net zero goals, they need an accurate way of tracking and reporting emissions – which is nearly impossible to do efficiently with current methods.
The answer lies in technology
The carbon emissions tracking process is already transforming. Connected sensors are improving data collection for carbon-emitting equipment located anywhere in the world. Advances in edge computing make it possible for data to be quickly gathered and recorded no matter the sensor’s location, offering companies a reliable data collection method that they can implement in any region.
The star of the show when it comes to accurately and securely recording and reporting on the numbers is blockchain technology. Companies need a verifiable place to record the emissions data that is accurate and can easily be referenced in case of an audit. Blockchain gives real assurance that the data inputted from other smart technologies is unaltered and stems from a single source of truth, giving stakeholders proof that data shared with them is trustworthy. Using blockchain also enables businesses and governments to better navigate the regulatory web that will only become more complex as we come out of COP26.
Industry example: Oil and Gas
To illustrate, the U.S. oil and gas industry has long been cutting emissions reduction estimates by as much as 50% to avoid over-reporting. What’s more, they’ve been using manual data gathering approaches and multiple sources of information with no real way to trace the path of data. In this industry, errors, even if they’re accidental, are subject to pricey fines from regulatory agencies and that will likely become even more of a factor in the wake of COP26. The industry will need to pivot to stay in line with the commitments to emissions reduction and be able to prove their work.
That need will accelerate the use of innovative technologies like blockchain for emissions tracking and engender innovative ways to be a part of the energy transition, rather than shut out from it. The climate challenges we face are dire, but they provide the opportunity for technological innovation on a level we have never seen before. Events like COP26 are useful only if they are working with the real numbers.
Blockchain can help us do better
It’s clear from the interest in blockchain as a part of COP26 that it’s gaining serious traction as a solution to the emissions data problem we’re facing, as well as getting us on a true path to Net Zero.
Without it, all the promises made and action taken to prevent further climate damage will be meaningless. While embracing these new technologies is good for individual companies and industries on a micro level, wider adoption will be critical to bringing transparency to emissions tracking to a macro level and getting a solid understanding of the true numbers, so policies and goals are clear and achievable.