Blockchain For Good Faces Familiar Blockages – OpEd


By Matthew Allen

All eyes were on Libra at the Blockchain 4 Impact summit in Geneva last week. But the Facebook stablecoin project was only one part of a two-day event asking the question: Can blockchain help meet Sustainable Development Goals?

The question of blockchain curing the world’s ills is one I’ve looked at before and the claim still attracts a fair amount of scorn. Can a piece of accountancy software really alleviate income inequality, the refugee crisis, democratic breakdowns and environmental catastrophe?

The United Nations Office in Geneva seemed a good place to start. There was no shortage of blockchain projects on show, tackling such diverse subjects as plastic bottle pollution, dirty gold, voting in Africa, democratic finance and digital identities.

So where does blockchain fit in? And is there not a danger that the much-hyped new technology is simply being injected into the mix for a bit of “wow” factor?  

The assembled dignitaries agreed that blockchain holds certain interesting features: cryptography, a consensus mechanism allowing non-aligned parties to agree on data and the technology’s apparent ability to cut through layers of opaque bureaucracy, cost and delay.

But there are also a number of unsolved issues: a lack of global rules governing blockchain, the problem of transferring rights of digital-only assets, proving that personal data will be protected from prying eyes, coping with high volumes of transactions without freezing, ensuring the authenticity of data inputted into the blockchain and coping with errors on an immutable system.

In short, “Blockchain for Good” has reached the same holding pattern as blockchain in general. There are numerous pilots and a few smaller live projects confined to a limited set of users. But rolling blockchain out to the general population may take a little while longer. 

Also on my radar:

1. I did get to speak with Libra Association Managing Director Bertrand Perez. He answered back to numerous critics of the cryptocurrency project by saying that Libra will not threaten monetary policy. But it appears the launch date has been set back by the regulatory entanglement and not everyone is convinced that Facebook is the right entity to lead the project. 

2. More financial cryptoassets are entering the fray, with a collaboration between Bitcoin Suisse and Amun to offer a crypto ETP, linked to bitcoin and ether, which is denominated in Swiss francs. Bank Vontobel has also launched a structured product that can be traded on blockchain.


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