Can ‘Hackathons’ Halt Climate Change? This Man Thinks So

Impact4All speaks to Nick Beglinger, co-founder and CEO of C21, about Hack4Climate – the world’s first hackathon initiative for saving the planet

Innovation in technology is critical to the quest to curb climate change. Hack4Climate (H4C), a climate-driven hackathon, aims to pit the wits of the world’s best coders against some of the planet’s most pressing environmental challenges.

H4C is organised by the Zurich-based Cleantech21 foundation and represents the world’s first coding programme linked to a climate conference. The initiative is supported by UNFCCC Secretariat – a partner of Connect4Climate/World Bank – and the Climate Ledger Initiative.

The annual programme has so far has engaged 1,300 developers in 17 preparatory workshops held across 17 global blockchain centres. From over 500 applications received, the top 100 were selected and invited to Bonn in 2017.

Nick, what issues is Hack4Climate (H4C) aiming to tackle?

We are focusing on global advocacy and awareness of climate change.

We are also focused on the intersection between disruptive technologies and climate management. We have defined three core technologies that can help solve climate issues: Internet of Things (IoT), distributed ledger (DL) and AI (artificial intelligence).

Some of the specific areas we looked into at H4C 2018 were: emissions tracking; carbon pricing; distributed energy; sustainable transport; and sustainable land.

How and why did you come up with the idea for H4C?

During Paris (COP21), given the awareness of the big climate challenge, it struck me that there was very little awareness of the innovation of the three technologies (AI, DL and IoT) in environmental areas. So I started doing a lot of research around it.

In May 2017 we announced in conjunction with the UNFCCC that we would conduct a hackathon with a link to a climate conference.

We organised 17 workshops worldwide in tech centres and spoke to the development communities because what they know will be very useful in terms of climate change. We received a lot of applications and we chose the best 100. We invited them from 33 countries to come to Bonn and take part in the hackathon immediately before the climate conference.

The final results were presented to the delegates, which achieved a lot from an awareness aspect. Everyone knows about blockchain and distributed ledgers now in the climate community. We also managed to bring together extraordinary guys from many walks of life and build a global community. We want to bring together the experts (hackers and politicians) and climate conferences are the best place to do that.

Did any new technology come out of the hackathon?

Yes, many solutions. Hackathons can never develop a new programming language but you can bring together cutting-edge things and create a useful business case out of them.

For example, the wind team has been combined with another team for a project called Redchain which looks at deforestation. For the first time ever, the team that was working on a land use case has provided AI to rural networks to look at 10 years worth of satellite pictures from the past so you can make a predictive model for the future (where deforestation will be most likely).

How important is building a global community for accelerating climate change solutions?

The H4C innovation programme is quite unique in the way it applies community-based development. The community is at the heart of our development effort. It consists of talented IoT, DLT and AI software developers as well as climate experts. The community was built for our first hack and has been growing since.

In our development phase, challenges are initially drafted with partners and then posted in the community for feedback. The challenge then gets refined in an iterative process. This involves a global network of engaged guys, results in fast feedback and relevant project links from every geography.

Top developers are difficult to get. They are global nomads and come from literally every country on the planet. They can choose which projects they want to work on(DL) . Money is not their key motivator. They would rather set their mark in the community.

We give them a platform and, most of all, projects with purpose. So by choosing the community approach, we can get the best talent and thus arrive at the best solutions – which is what the climate needs.

How can blockchain help to save the planet?

Blockchain (DL) is as important as the internet was 20 years ago in terms of innovation value. It’s important for everything – 10 per cent of world GDP will be on blockchain by the year 2025. Everything is affected by this: the banks, insurance companies and of course, the climate. It’s been around for a while even though there’s been a buzz around it.

The trust aspect is a central benefit of blockchain. In the climate world, where the market forces and regulatory forces are so important, where you have UN conventions to get countries to work together and you have scenarios where different agents are there and need to work with each other – they need to trust each other. If you want to work with them and share data, you have to offer distributed structures. If there is no central party then they are more inclined to share. Blockchain provides a safe structure.



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