There are a number of opportunities for blockchain technology to re-cast conventional approaches to sustainable development – and accelerate progress if deployed responsibly.
There are 3 areas where blockchain could be an SDG game changer: building resilient and transparent supply chains; creating stronger and more accountable public institutions; spurring responsible sourcing and consumption.
When the SDGs were conceived in 2012, blockchain technology was in its early days. Few could have foreseen the trajectory and the potential of blockchain for advancing these ambitious targets.
But today, we see opportunities for blockchain technology to re-cast conventional approaches to sustainable development – and accelerate progress if deployed responsibly.
Macro trends of 2020
There are a number of macro trends this year in the world of blockchain and sustainable development that provide context. Moreover, this has been – and will continue to be – an important year for laying the groundwork for major disruptors like digital currency and digital identity.
The trajectory of blockchain technology, in some ways, chimes with that of its predecessors. Following buzz around ambitious aims such as financial inclusion and data ownership, there has been limited work to define what this means and looks like. In fact, if risks and benefits are not carefully evaluated, there is potential for widening existing gaps or the exploitation of vulnerable populations.
It has been encouraging to see momentum towards defining and self-regulating around user protection, such as the Global Digital Finance Code and the Presidio Principles, but it’s important that these conversations stay grounded in the realities of consumer protection, infrastructure capabilities, and the influence of politics and cultural notions to ensure that the technology is able to meaningfully contribute to sustainable development aims.
Moreover, this has been – and will continue to be – an important year for laying the groundwork for major disruptors like digital currency and digital identity.
While some organizations such as the Human Rights Foundation and American Red Cross have long-accepted cryptocurrency donations, we have seen an increase in the number of players looking at digital currency as an avenue for financing the SDGs. For instance, the UNICEF CryptoFund announced its largest round of investments this year and a number of platforms supported a crypto spin on Giving Tuesday.
As conversations around central bank digital currencies and stable coins pick up, so are those on how digital currency may be a tool for direct aid delivery, such as we’ve seen with the World Food Programme’s Building Blocks project, which uses blockchain for authenticating and registering transactions.
There has also been a sustained focus on digital identity as a key enabler of the SDGs. While many of these efforts are in early stages – like the recently-launched PayID that brought together a number of industry leaders – this will certainly be a space to watch as a foundational element for future progress.
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Has Covid-19 prompted the Belt and Road Initiative to go green?
– Chinese overseas investment dropped off in 2020
– Government remains committed to the wide-ranging infrastructure programme
– Sustainability, health and digital to be the new cornerstones of the initiative
Following a year of coronavirus-related disruptions, China appears to be placing a greater focus on sustainable, digital and health-related projects in its flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
As OBG outlined in April last year, the onset of Covid-19 prompted questions about the future direction of the BRI.
Launched in 2013, the BRI is an ambitious international initiative that aims to revive ancient Silk Road trade routes through large-scale infrastructure development.
By the start of 2020 some 2951 BRI-linked projects – valued at a total of $3.9trn – were planned or under way across the world.
However, as borders closed and lockdowns were imposed, progress stalled on a number of major BRI infrastructure developments.
In June China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that 30-40% of BRI projects had been affected by the virus, while a further 20% had been “seriously affected”. Restrictions on the flow of Chinese workers and construction supplies were cited as factors behind project suspensions or slowdowns in Pakistan, Cambodia and Indonesia, among other countries.
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