As the global warming phenomenon continues to strengthen its stranglehold on our beloved Earth, tropical forests that function as natural green lungs play an increasingly critical role in maintaining the atmospheric conditions of this planet that humanity calls home. This is because although tropical forests cover only approximately 7% of the Earth’s land surface, they are home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s floral and faunal diversity, in addition to storing about 68% of the global carbon stocks. In the context of Southeast Asia (SEA), which is home to about 15% of the world’s tropical forests, it is estimated that in the decade from 2005 to 2015, the region has lost more than a third of its tropical forests.
Out of the 80 million hectares of tropical forests that SEA has lost in that period, Indonesia has the infamy of being the biggest contributor, as it accounted for a staggering 62% of regional tropical forests loss followed by Malaysia at a distant second with 16.6%. It is notable that the farmers in Indonesia and Malaysia are responsible for burning forests during the dry season, which generally lasts from July to October. Every year during this period, farmers from the two countries clear forests for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations using the slash-and-burn method. These forest-burning activities tend to spread beyond the confines of plantation-to-be into surrounding forests, eventually contributing not only to the issue of deforestation, but also the haze problem that engulfs Southeast Asian countries on an annual basis.
On a regional level, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has put in place a host of initiatives to conserve the tropical forests of its member states. Firstly, ASEAN member states have declared in the “Ministerial Statement on Strengthening Forestry Cooperation in ASEAN in Conjunction with the International Year of the Forest 2011” their commitment to implement the Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative, devised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) back in 2005 with the aim of tackling climate change through the use of forest management policies to reduce greenhouse gases emissions in developing countries.
Additionally, the 2016-2025 Strategic Plan of Action for ASEAN Cooperation on Forestry aims to promote sustainable management of tropical forests among member states. It can be surmised that there is no lack of political will for the conservation of tropical forests in SEA. In terms of the practical implementation of the policy initiatives for the conservation of tropical forests in SEA, blockchain may prove to be the technological tool to transform this political will into a powerful force for the good of Mother Nature.
With regard to the conservation and management of tropical forests, the automated tracking and immutable recordkeeping features of blockchain would come in handy. The automated tracking feature of blockchain would be useful when it comes to the registry management of carbon credit schemes, which entail a complex process of carbon footprint tracking. As for the immutable recording feature of blockchain, it would provide the all-important element of transparency to the supply chain management auditing operations of environmental management-cum-forestry conservation projects, such as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which requires multinational corporations to measure the carbon emission levels of their business operations and report on the climate change impact of such operations.
As the main contributor to SEA’s deforestation issue and haze problem, Indonesia certainly can do with the use of blockchain for its tropical forest conservation efforts. In comes the “Smart Contract for Good” program, which is implemented by Indonesian industry group “Carbon Conservation” in collaboration with Dappbase, a technological platform service provider. The program leverages the automated nature of smart contracts to trigger the release of funds to villagers who successfully prevent forest fires from occurring in their areas. The achievement of the villages is determined based on data obtained from remote sensing technology such as satellite imagery.
On a global level, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international non-profit organization established with the objective of promoting responsible management of the world’s forests through the setting of standards for forest products as well as providing eco-friendly certification and labelling of such products which meet the stipulated criteria, has begun pilot testing its blockchain-based supply chain tracking system which operates using the proof of concept (PoC) protocol. The existing mechanism, which uses the paper-based Chain of Custody (CoC) system, is not only vulnerable to fraudulent practices but is also lacking in efficiency when it comes to handling the sheer volume of the supply chain. In addition to mitigating the risks of fraud in the environmentally friendliness certification process with the tamper-proof nature of its immutable records, the automated tracking feature of blockchain would also address the high costs of the CoC system, which requires every company forming part of the supply chain to be audited on a regular basis.
Tropical forests are gems of Mother Nature which take decades, if not centuries, to grow but only an instant to wipe out. Southeast Asian countries are fortunate to be blessed with large areas of tropical forests, the habitats of a rich biodiversity of exotic animals and plants, many of which can only be found in this part of the world. It is imperative, therefore, that Southeast Asian countries leverage blockchain to lend a helping hand to Mother Nature by sparing her the brunt of uncontrolled human activities.
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