Cryptocarbon: The promises and pitfalls of forest protection on a blockchain

Pete Howson, Sarah Oakes, Zachary Baynham-Herd, Jon Swords

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


In this commentary, we explore how blockchain is being leveraged to address the fundamental problems with market-based forest protection globally. In doing so, we consider the ways ‘cryptocarbon’ initiatives are creating new challenges that have so far escaped critical scrutiny. A blockchain is a distributed and immutable electronic database – a ledger of every transaction that has ever taken place on a network, stored as cryptographically secured blocks, strung together in a chain. The technology is being increasingly hyped as applicable for a whole range of industries, social service provisions, and environmental management concerns. This includes the facilitation of natural asset market mechanisms, like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). The original aim of REDD+ was to incentivise conservation, making tropical forests more valuable standing than cut down. Multiple factors, including lack of consumer interest, created an over-supply of carbon commodities. Ninety-five percent of the world’s avoided deforestation credits, representing millions of hectares of conserved forest, were stuck without a buyer. Several flagging REDD+ projects are now hoping that blockchain technology can carry them to new heights of market capitalisation. However, like with any powerful new technology, the benefits remain ambiguous.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
Early online date14 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


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