How Deforestation And Timber Issues Can Be Solved With Blockchain
About 30% of the world’s landmass is covered by forests. While that may seem like a lot, but sections of forests amounting to half the size of England are lost every year.
If the world’s rainforests continue to be destroyed at this rate, they will disappear entirely in the next 100 years.
The destruction of animal habitats has been well documented, but the impact of illegal logging is not localized to a few environments. It is a worldwide problem, the effects of which are felt around the globe.
Society needs a solution that stops bad actors from engaging in illicit trade and profiting from deforestation — and blockchain is set to help.
But there are several challenges to consider:
Deforestation and timber production have far-reaching implications.
Illegal logging is a multi-billion dollar industry, depressing timber prices and generating $10–15 billion annually in criminal proceeds.
The term “illegal logging” covers a wide variety of transgressions, including logging of protected species, logging in protected areas, and logging with fake or illegally obtained permits.
The loss of habitats and protected land cannot be overstated.
Habitats that have developed over the course of millennia are routinely devastated. And once destroyed, it’s incredibly difficult — or even impossible — to return them to their former state.
As habitats are lost, so are the plants, animals and biological diversity that made those areas so special. And these resources provide society with many of the pharmaceutical compounds it relies on today.
The rainforests also act as the planet’s lungs, absorbing carbon dioxide and replenishing the air with oxygen. Deforestation is occurring at the same time as a major influx of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, fueling climate change and further destabilizing regions.
It isn’t just the animals who lose habitats through illicit logging and trade.
Human communities and ways of life are wiped off the map in the pursuit of profits. As the trees that once held tons of earth in place with their roots are cleared away, so is their power to absorb groundwater and prevent erosion. Clear-cutting forests often ends in massive soil erosion and flooding that threatens smaller plants, animals, and humans alike.
Blockchain can solve for some of these issues.
To be clear, deforestation issues have depth and complexity, and blockchain is not a magic bullet.
But the technology can be used in efforts to provide more accurate records, increase transparency into timber supply chains, and incentivize better behavior from participants in the logging industry.
For one thing, blockchain is a useful tool when it comes to recording and protecting land records and documentation.
While protected lands still have to be enforced on the ground level by governments, blockchain offers a way to make sure the records related to that enforcement are unalterable.
Similarly, blockchain-based land records can offer some level of protection to communities and landowners whose land may be coveted by illegal loggers.
Blockchain also greatly improves visibility into the timber supply chain.
Cryptographic seals can be applied to the wood itself or to individual shipments, providing a chain of custody from the moment of application to the time the timber makes it to its final destination.
The results of timber DNA tests can be recorded and tracked on a blockchain to inform consumers they were logged in an ethical manner.
Portable scanners are available to read the grain of the timbers and identify the species of tree. Registering that information on blockchain would help identify when and where illegal timbers enter the supply chain. If a shipment of timber lacks the chain of custody from a reputable source, those timbers would be flagged immediately.
Squeezing illegal wood out of reputable supply chains will go a long way towards curbing the effects of deforestation and illegal logging by drying up the demand for those woods.
Blockchain is only one part of a wider effort.
Blockchain is a tool for education. It increases transparency and visibility in areas that were once opaque. It can provide insight into where and how problems occur in supply chains.
But it can’t solve problems on its own. It can’t enforce regulations or check permits by itself.
The solutions to the world’s environmental problems will involve many tools and organizations working together. Solving the deforestation crisis is going to take willpower from everyone involved — consumers, governments and business interests.
It can be accomplished, and it might even be accomplished faster if blockchain is part of that solution.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
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