Coding & Policy making for Climate. A delightful Combination
My Hack4Climate and COP23 Experience
The debate on the choice of becoming a specialist or a generalist is not new, and no doubt my career choices were affected by it. So I just chose to have both skills. Policy analyst skills to be a generalist with overview of major industry domains and programming skills to be a specialist with clear focus on AI and Blockchain related development.
Through various projects I was able to realise these skills together through personally initiated research projects such as assessing the education system of Turkey and understanding how reservation systems surrounding caste can be improved in India. However, the Hack4Climate hackathon, one of the events during the COP23, was the first situation where I could combine these skills. It brought together people from all backgrounds in policy, design and programming to create solutions in fighting climate change.
To reach Bonn, I decided to avoid a flight and took a 10 hour bus ride(because carbon footprint!). After the tiring ride, I realised I was missing my luggage, I took the tram in wrong direction, debit card didn’t work and I had to walk for 40 minutes in rain and 3 degrees. Despite this rough start, the experience i gathered during the next week would become one of my best experiences I had this year.
Introduction to COP and Hack4Climate
In layman terms, COP is a climate change conference, where country delegates meet, negotiate and discuss how to combat climate change. There are three major strategies for combating climate change: Adaptation, Mitigation and Resilience. This year, Fiji hosted the COP (administratively), while the city of Bonn was the physical host. The discussions primarily involved post-2020 strategies to meet the Paris agreement goals. Some very nice overviews of the outcomes with concerns (e.g. Japan’s strategies towards coal and achievements like Gender Action Plan) of the COP23 can be found here and here (by ECO).
H4C was the first ever hackathon aimed at climate change solutions using the technology of blockchain. 100 top-notch hackers were selected from across world. Blockchain as a technology took a central position in this hackathon. It is the technology which laid the foundations for bitcoin, allowing information to be stored on a distributed ledger. It helps people or machines to do transactions more securely and on a trusted platform. For more details, what blockchain is and how blockchain can be used for example for healthcare, decentralised energy trading, etc. read this great blog by Yvo Hunink, this blog by Ashay Tejwani, and another blog by Melissa Mokhtari. Five main challenges were presented, namely tracking of emissions (supply chain), carbon pricing, distributed energy, sustainable land use and sustainable transport. Of course, I chose distributed energy.
Our team’s focus was to explore how renewable energy can be traded between devices at a place where there is no grid of any form (due to poverty, lack of access, etc.). This would help to prevent fossil-fuel technologies to prevail or emerge and improve climate change resilience for a region in developing countries. In 24 hr, we developed an end-to-end solution in the form of a plug-in solution for trading energy from devices to devices. At the same time, this solution would help in communities to optimise their renewable energy usage, save their bills and thus help to increase incentives for community energy trading.
The solution was composed of a real-time input from the devices communicating their production, done with a Raspberry Pi. The tariff values were also collected real-time from the ENTSOE platform. This data would be combined with the limit price that the consumer puts on their affordability (at which they would like to buy energy). Additionally, the capacity of the devices would be taken into account to develop a trading logic and based on this the transaction would be written on the Ethereum ledger. The consumer can see what amount of energy is being traded with which device in the system. The complete development of this end-to-end solution, together with the presentation, is openly available on a Github repository and can be found here.
Development of this solution did not mean solely coding for 24 hours, but also brainstorming on the business opportunities, understanding national and local policies around the devices or land usage and understanding the hardware requirements or limitations. Thus, the skills of generalist and specialist came together well into one solution at this platform.
Being an observer delegate for COP23, I was able to attend a few events at COP, such as the plenary sessions. Ministers of environment from all the countries mentioned their agendas for post-2020, which showed some interesting differences, providing the mutual goal. Nevertheless, the efforts are appreciable. The Ministry of environment from India talked about saving their coastal areas at risk, as Fiji did. The focus on Renewable energy was expressed in mitigation measures at urban centers, sustainable waste processes, a better regulated transportation sector and industrial plants. However, poverty eradication remained the most important goal for India, while inclusive sustainable lifestyles are maintained. The Netherlands made promises on erradicating gas usage by 2030, which was commendable. There were other comments released, from countries such as Suriname, Mongolia and Congo, on sustaining their green forests.
What is concerning is the absence of statements from the USA at central level and actions of Japan in signing treaties on coal plants with other countries. But the hope for a greener and better future continues with COP 24, a Polish-Fiji hosted event and COP 25 in South America with an important role for developing countries in these conferences.
The COP can be really intimidating with so many influential people around. I thought COP23 would be a relief as it was my second COP (Marrakesh experience), but oh boy.. I realised that each COP was not only intimidating in a positive way, but also a bundle of many other emotions, ranging from amazement to shock! If you are also interested to join COP as an observer delegate, it is best to reach out to various NGOs admitted at UNFCCC.
Though this blog is a very personal experience, I think it would be really helpful for people to understand how cool COPs actually are, and why it needs involvement and opinions from more youth across the world.
For coming up with an end-to-end solution, we formed a team with specialist from all genres and I would like to thank them all: Hardware specialist Alexander, Front end specialist and integrator Thulasi, Smart contract developer Qianchen, Business specialist Manuela, I was handling the trading logic/ predictive algorithm development. Thanks to Riccardo Volpato as well for coming to last minute rescue! My personal motivation to be part of this team was very much influenced from my work at Energy Bazaar, where we try to build decentralized platform for energy trading using block-chain to the households with issues of energy access. The solution was built together with support and challenge statement from Selber community project by Michael Butzer and Nick Beglinger.
Thanks to the YES-DC team who made it possible for two years in row for me to attend the COP events! Thanks to Hack4Climate team for the amazing arrangements. Finally, thanks to Dirk van den Biggelaar and Yvo Hunink for being my moral boosters.
The winners of the hackathon are the team members of gainforest, who created amazing architecture for “fighting rainforest deforestation by intelligently rewarding, while empowering caretakers with a cutting-edge proof-of-care consensus system and suite of AI-powered conservation tools.”