“Harnessing Blockchain For Sustainable Development: Prospects And Challenges”

In 2021 the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released a study report titled “Harnessing Blockchain For Sustainable Development: Prospects And Challenges” (found here). Over 66 pages they take an in-depth look into blockchain technology, what it is, and how it could potentially be used to help countries and organizations reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Sustainable Development Goals created by the United Nations in 2015 are  “a call to action to end poverty and inequality, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy health, justice and prosperity

 17 goals in total were created;

  1. No poverty
  2. Zero hunger
  3. Good health and well-being
  4. Quality education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean water and sanitation
  7. Affordable and clean energy
  8. Decent work and economic growth
  9. Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
  10. Reduced inequality
  11. Sustainable cities and communities
  12. Responsible consumption and production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life below water
  15. Life on land
  16. Peace and justice strong institutions
  17. Partnerships to achieve the goal

The report found that there are possible blockchain technology applications for all 17 SDGs.  In some cases, there are even pilots and trials underway however to date no impact evaluations have been complete to determine the effectiveness of these new technological solutions. Pages 16 to 18 walk you through some of the global applications being used for each SDG, and are worth checking out!

The report takes a conservative approach and identifies that “blockchain technology can be used in many applications that could contribute to sustainable development”, however, they note several concerns such as “scalability, privacy, regulatory standards and difficulties integrating with existing applications, inflation about blockchains ability to solve developmental problems and may not be applicable for developing countries”. The report rightly notes “The fact is that the people that would benefit the most, those that are furthest behind in the SDGs, are also those that have less access to technological solutions.” There are also repeated mentions of the concern regarding the environmental impact of blockchain technology in its current format and how this would negatively impact the SDGs, therefore, suggesting any positive impact might be negated.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the opinions provided, the report does provide some interesting insight and provides a great explanation of blockchain, cryptocurrency and DeFi in section II. The aim of the United Nations is to reach all 17 SDGs by 2030, meaning we only have seven years left to reach some pretty lofty goals. Perhaps blockchain technology isn’t the solution for everything, but just perhaps there are some great ideas in this report that will help further us, as a collective whole, towards meeting them. Whilst 66 pages isn’t particularly a ‘light’ read if you’ve got some time to spare we would recommend taking a look.