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IBM thinks blockchains can help reduce carbon emissions

It’s turning carbon credits into crypto-tokens—part of a scheme to create a massive marketplace of novel digital assets.
July 19, 2018
Ms. tech

The world is moving toward a “token-driven economy” in which all kinds of assets, from stocks and bonds to real estate and fine art, will be represented by crypto-tokens on blockchains—and this will unlock massive amounts of value. At least that’s what IBM, which hopes to build software platforms for trading these tokens, is betting. And one of the first things it plans to help digitize has a bonus feature: it benefits the environment.

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Companies, governments, and others use what are called carbon offset credits to compensate for the carbon dioxide they emit. The credits are purchased or traded, and the investment goes toward reducing emissions some other way, such as renewable energy production or carbon sequestration. But there are various kinds, and some tend to lose value over time. Unfortunately, purchasing “high quality” carbon credits is a complex, cumbersome process that has to be done in over-the-counter transactions, which slows down the market for them, says Jim Procanik, executive director of the Veridium Foundation. Blockchain technology, he says, is a “perfect background for creating a more liquid and transparent marketplace.”

That’s why Veridium has teamed with IBM to “tokenize” carbon offset credits using the Stellar blockchain. Its token, which is slated to launch later this year, will be backed by a basket of different carbon assets verified by third parties according to international standards. Some of those credits will come from Veridium’s sister company, InfiniteEARTH, which already has an established business selling carbon credits to companies that want to offset their carbon footprints. 

Fossil-fuel companies, technology firms, banks, and other big corporations are under increasing pressure from shareholders and boards to address their environmental impact, which Procanik maintains has driven today’s market for voluntary carbon credits into billion-dollar territory. But he and the team at Veridium believe they can make it much more valuable, and not just by making the credits easier to buy and sell. The token protocol will also be capable of automatically calculating how many carbon credits a company will need to purchase in order to sufficiently offset the calculated carbon footprint of a given product, according to Procanik. This required accounting is time-consuming and expensive, which can discourage potential investors. “It’s one thing to buy these credits, but it’s another thing to use them,” he says. The token should make it much simpler.

Veridium teamed with IBM to take advantage of Big Blue’s expertise in the area of industry-specific blockchain networks, particularly those it has developed for the energy sector, where companies also happen to be looking to offset their carbon emissions. These private systems are meant to automatically enforce business rules that are unique to transactions between, say, oil and gas companies.

In Veridium’s token, IBM sees an opportunity to combine its networks with Stellar’s publicly accessible blockchain and demonstrate how it’s possible to turn a “somewhat exotic” asset class into a token that can be combined with other kinds of business transactions, says Jesse Lund, the company’s head of blockchain solutions and financial services. Lund, who says we’re going to see what he calls an “arms race” to build the best blockchain-based business networks, predicts that the networks with more “assets living on them that can be freely exchanged” will see greater adoption.

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