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The ‘Build Back Better’ Imperative

A once in a g̶e̶n̶e̶r̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶lifetime opportunity to curb global warming and achieve sustainable economic growth

Oliver Johnston-Watt
Aug 28 · 6 min read
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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The imperative to ‘Build Back Better’ is gaining traction on both sides of the Atlantic. It has even featured in Joe Biden’s presidential campaign . At the Democratic National Convention, President Obama, went as far as to say —

Tonight, I am asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala’s ability to lead this country out of these dark times and build it back better.

The root of this campaign, however, is environmental. In May, the renowned environmentalist and author, Jonathon Porritt, published a Forum For the Future blog Beyond COVID-19: Can Business Really ‘Build Back Better’? which, in no uncertain terms, implores governments to commit the unprecedented levels of public expenditure to solve the twin crises of the economic downturn and the oncoming existential climate emergency or. In June, in an article in the Guardian, Porritt went further writing —

Trillions of dollars will be invested by governments in reviving their economies over the next two or three years. If those dollars are well spent, ensuring low-carbon, nature-restoring prosperity, we have a real chance of avoiding runaway climate change and ecosystem collapse. If they’re spent on taking us back to pre-coronavirus days, we’re screwed. The climate’s screwed. The planet’s screwed. And all future generations are screwed. It’s as simple — and as binary — as that.

Professor Susan Michie, Director of the Centre for Behavioural Change at University College London, also cited the necessity to ‘Build Back Better’ on a televised panel about the future of work post-Covid-19. In a recent report How will COVID-19 impact our ability to deliver Net Zero, Professor Michie argues that the empowerment of society to engage emotionally and practically is fundamental to realising effective climate change policy and systemic behavioural change. The notion of ‘Build Back Better’ is an essential communication strategy for mobilising a social movement towards a green post-Covid-19 recovery.

The signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 was a landmark moment in the development of a global determination to combat the effects of climate change. As a result governments and businesses are increasingly eager to position themselves as backers of the ‘Build Back Better’ campaign. However, long term improvements to address climate change are yet to be realised.

Build Back Better & Covid-19

The globalised economy as we knew it has been effectively placed on hold due to unprecedented restrictions on work and travel worldwide. The figures are staggering — the passenger traffic through Heathrow Airport in May was reduced by 97 percent compared to the previous year.

The rapid reduction in global productivity has had a stark impact on global carbon emissions. It is forecasted that global carbon emissions will be 7% less in 2020 than 2019, levels not seen for over a decade and this reduction has been heralded as a positive side effect of the crisis. However, scientists have argued that this will have a negligible impact on the rate of global warming as these measures are a temporary response to the pandemic. Nonetheless, while these specific measures may not be conducive to effective environmental policy, wide scale interventionist policies by the government, underpinned by unprecedented levels of public borrowing, could lead to greater state power coupled with greater expectations from the public for the government to play an effective role in setting effective long term economic objectives.

The upside of the global pandemic is that there has never been a greater opportunity to ‘Build Back Better’ and set the world on course for a greener and more sustainable future. Heavy public spending is on the menu regardless of fiscally-conservative party policy. In the United Kingdom, for example, Conservative chancellor Rishi Sunak has overseen the national debt increase to £2 trillion, exceeding the national GDP — levels not seen since the 1960s. It is imperative that this turning point in public expenditure coincides with ambitious environmentally friendly policies. To not do so would be to lose a once in a g̶e̶n̶e̶r̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ lifetime opportunity to curb global warming while creating sustainable economic growth.

Build Back Better & Sustainability

The sentiment is clear — the post-Covid-19 recovery must deliver a renewed and more prosperous future. The global pandemic has coincided with an established global consensus that the climate crisis is a top level threat.

In 2015, 197 countries signed the Paris Agreement agreeing to define and implement interventions to limit global warming in this century to 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. The UN has played a pivotal role in developing this multilateral policy making by developing what it calls Sustainable Development Goals and obliging parties to the Paris Agreement to commit to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — actionable strategies to reduce carbon emissions urgently.

Build Back Better & Blockchain

Technology will play a critical role in delivering a sustainable and greener future. The economist Klaus Schwab, Founder & Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), goes as far to argue that humanity is standing on the precipice of a technology-enabled future — the Fourth Industrial Revolution — where an alchemy of emerging technologies (artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality, biotechnology, robotics and the internet of things) will lead to untold levels of economic efficiency through automation.

Cooperation, multilateralism and transparency are all key to the development of effective environmental public policy. These are also the qualities of blockchain — a distributed network architecture designed to enable trust and transparency between multiple parties. Much like the UN works as an arena to create consensus between multiple Member States, a blockchain network creates consensus and trust between participants.

Blockchain has been identified by both the UN and the WEF as a foundational technology with valuable capabilities that can be deployed to improve environmental sustainability in a variety of names, from greater transparency in supply chains to auditing carbon credit issuances. The WEF has even created a blockchain toolkit.

While blockchain has been the subject of hype due to its inaccurate conflation with cryptocurrencies, the technology has made leaps and bounds with many blockchain use cases in production. Even more importantly, the open source communities who guide the development of blockchain, notably Hyperledger, are better organised, better capitalised and better prepared to deliver real value.

Build Back Better & BTP

There are several initiatives that BTP is involved in that are each in their own way contributing to the ‘Build Back Better’ movement.

Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC)

GBBC was founded in Davos in 2017 with the mission to accelerate the adoption of blockchain technology by engaging regulators, enterprises and policy makers to deliver on the potential of blockchain to deliver positive societal change.

GBBC is an official partner of the UN Foundation’s Global Goals Week and will be hosting its third Blockchain Central as part of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) with the key theme of how blockchain can accelerate progress towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

This year GBBC Blockchain Central UNGA will be virtual and we are looking forward to participating in a panel discussion The Way We Live: Updated Approaches to Climate Change on September 17th 6:20pm — 7:05pm ET.

Hyperledger

Hyperledger, hosted by the Linux Foundation, is the leading open source community developing enterprise-ready blockchain frameworks and tools. Hyperledger is home to a number of Special Interest Groups that have a relationship with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals but two in particular standout —

The Climate Action & Climate Accounting SIG which is headed by Dr. Martin Wainstein, founder of the Yale University Open Innovation Lab and Tom Baumann, Co-Chair of the Climate Chain Coalition.

The Social Impact SIG which is chaired by Nancy Min, founder of ecoLong.

Hyperledger is hosting a virtual Member Summit September 10th-11th so if you or your organisation are members you should register here.

InterWork Alliance (IWA)

The newly formed InterWork Alliance is a non-profit industry standards organization that is tasked with developing standards that will simplify the digital interchange of value through tokens.

In late July they announced The InterWork Alliance Sustainability Initiative to Develop Trusted Solution for Standardizing Token-based Carbon Emission Accounting, Credits, and Offsetting.

For a comprehensive overview of the IWA and how they fit into the emerging world of tokenisation, check out my blog Towards the Tokenization of Everything.


Only time will tell whether ‘Build Back Better’ truly captured the post-COVID-19 zeitgeist and was effective in helping mobilise governments and businesses to adopt the environmentally sustainable policies and initiatives required to deliver on a net zero carbon future.

However, BTP wholeheartedly supports the ‘Build Back Better’ cause and is optimistic about the potential for technologies such as blockchain to help pave the way for a more sustainable future.

Oliver Johnston-Watt

Written by

Marketing Director, BTP

BTP — bringing the benefits of blockchain and smart contracts to business

Bringing the benefits of blockchain and smart contracts to business. New York and Edinburgh.

Oliver Johnston-Watt

Written by

Marketing Director, BTP

BTP — bringing the benefits of blockchain and smart contracts to business

Bringing the benefits of blockchain and smart contracts to business. New York and Edinburgh.

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