Could Blockchain And AI Help Prevent Deforestation?

Could Blockchain And AI Help Prevent Deforestation?

One of the key achievements so far at COP26 has been the commitment to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.

Last week’s agreement by more than 100 leaders was backed by almost £14 billion ($19.2 billion) in public and private funding.

The links between deforestation and climate change are well established.

Forests absorbing around one-third of the global CO2 released from burning fossil fuels every year, but we are losing them at an alarming rate.

An area of forest the size of 27 football pitches is lost every minute.

And while nature-based solutions will undoubtedly play a large role in protecting the world’s forests, technology will also be key.

One unlikely saviour could be blockchain, which could play a huge role in tackling the problem of illegal timber in the supply chain.

llegal logging threatens some of the world's most valuable forests – from the Amazon to the Russian Far East.

The technology firm iov42 is working with the EU to develop a “blockchain-style” infrastructure system, the aim of which is to leverage blockchain to improve standards of cross-border services for governments and organisations.

The Commission is increasingly interested in how blockchain can improve sustainable practice in this regard.

iov42 launched Timber Chain this year.

It is an application which imparts blockchain digital identities to each of the stakeholders that are part of the supply chain and represents timber as digital assets.

The application has been devised in partnership with environmental non-profit organisation Preferred by Nature, and has been built to improve and safeguard the interactions between all stakeholders, from forest to shelf.

The international illegal timber trade is said to be worth between $50 billion and $150 billion, with the UN Environment Programme estimating that between 15% to 30% of timber is obtained illegally.

And illegal timber is estimated to account for between 50% and 90% of wood harvested from Amazonia, Central Africa, and Southeast Asia.

“With timber, waste occurs at any given stage – trees can suddenly appear from nowhere to get the process back to 100%. And then it gets put on a container ship, goes to an importer and a table gets made. With each stage, there is waste,” explains iov24 chief executive, Dominic von Trotha Taylor.

“iov42 is able to track each stage of the process. If the waste gets converted into a different medium, like pulp, for example, then we can create a new asset called pulp,” explains Mr von Trotha Taylor.

“One of the things we're looking at with the European Union is not only to track that whole process in the way I've described. But then to be able to deal with the sort of circular economy aspects of it. For example, what happens with recycling or reuse,” he adds.

“We've been very successful, albeit in very early stages. We're working with a non-profit organisation called Preferred by Nature, who are the biggest certifier of timber in the world at the moment,” he added.

He adds that blockchain technology is “perfect” for developing a database with multiple assets and players, like the timber industry.

He sees other uses, particularly monitoring the supply chain around lithium, which is set to grow in coming years as more people switch to electric vehicles.

“We've also had conversations with one or two cosmetic companies that want to be sure that the ingredients for their cosmetics are sustainable, as well as companies that sell clothing. They want to know that their cotton comes from the right places.”

The European Commission is also eager to investigate the potential of blockchain to improve sustainability and sourcing. The European Blockchain Services infrastructure, or ‘EBSI’, is due to enter its second phase towards the end of this year, and upon completion aspires to be facilitating up to 15 billion transactions per minute, a world first for blockchain technology.

Another cause of deforestation are wildfires, particularly in the US in recent years.

Faulty or fraying powerlines have been linked in the past to major wildfires, and many experts have warned that more extreme weather events will put energy grids under further pressure.

“We have an ageing infrastructure that is rapidly going out of life,” says Timothy Barat, the co-founder and CEO of Gridware. “We have a diminishing workforce. And we have increased stress on the equipment, partly due to electrification, but also due to climate change and the increased frequency of extreme weather events.”

Mr Barat says the many powerlines and poles are still only inspected once every 10 years, which makes it difficult to spot potential problems before it becomes too late.

“Utilities still inspect their poles by hitting them with a hammer,” he explains. “They will listen to how it sounds. This technique is prone to human error.”

In order to ensure that powerlines can be regularly monitored and early problems spotted, Gridware has developed the Gridscope, which employs AI algorithms with process sensor data locally which reduces the power consumption of communications.

“The strength of AI is in recognising the patterns and making quality judgments,” he adds. “Over time, AI technology can build a library of understanding that is able to match the precursors to failures to actual failures. And then this will make the technology more sensitive to all the small signals that the equipment is giving us to tell that it's in distress.”

Himanshu Gupta CEO of ClimateAi, said climate change is a “big data problem” because there are terabytes of data coming in every day from weather stations. satellites, and sensors on the ground.

“Traditional algorithms or systems developed in the 1990s won't be enough to crunch that amount of data. And that's where artificial intelligence comes in. AI can help both predict, as well as optimize.”

He cites the example of supply chains in food and agriculture.

“We are working very closely with a company called Pacific Seeds in Australia, where there have been serious dry spells over the last decade. This is having an impact on the farmers in terms of the seeds they plant and the yields they observe at the end of the growing season. Typically, it takes 10 years or more to launch a new seed to the market.

“AI like ours can estimate the suitability of growing a new seed variety across various microclimates and reduce the time to market. It can analyze the historical seed performance data, weather data, soil data, and future climate data to locate new regions where the seeds are going to perform the best."

He says another example of AI being used to tackle climate change is in medium-term weather forecasts. Mr Gupta says many of the existing weather systems struggles when incorporating oceanic data in their models.

“What we did was use the same algorithm used by the self-driving car industry, which examines 1000s of images coming to a car, detecting pedestrians and then making a probabilistic judgment of whether the pedestrian is going to move left or right.

“We have flipped the problem and asked what if we were to visualize climate data as an image? So instead of a pedestrian, we'll have temperature precipitation and wind speed as the fundamental issues. components of a pixel. So, the pedestrian detection problem becomes a problem of predicting the oceanic patterns such as El Nino/La Nina as an example, which is then used to predict heat waves on the land problem. By using that algorithm, we are able to predict extreme weather events beyond two weeks, anywhere from 10% to 150% better than the traditional weather models currently in use.”

It would be impossible to physically police the world’s forests, which are vital to the planet’s wellbeing. If applications like blockchain and AI can help, and in some cases prevent further damage from being done then that is no bad thing. As ironic as it sounds, the future of the world’s eco-system is in technology’s hands.

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