First Interview Community of Praxis Digital Public Goods for Paris

What is making it so hard to make this introductory piece is the perspective taking and search for a starting point, as I have no idea how much Paris Accords you (need to) know. But from the Ministry for the Future level, this task is very related to the “some digital bookkeeping” system that Stanley Robinson mentions in his ideas about solutions, but provides very little detail or description off. I think he had a weird scene on an Indian farm with people walking around and taking soil samples. That kind of thing. I find the socio-economic imagination just so incredibly lame at that point of the book, but he did get the map of the real world extremely well, including especially the role of UN organizations and current trajectories. Anyway, let me start with the Paris angle, as this is probably the historically most critical one:

  • Article 6 of the Paris Agreement guidelines were completed in the Glasgow COP last year. Now implementation starts.

We will be talking a lot about Article 6, so you may want to read it in the original wording and if you want to nerd out, there is the Glasgow Text on Article 6. Here is an official, but human readable summary:

One thing that is widely agreed upon is that we need to keep track of Climate Actions and somehow account for them.

Very brief background of how this text came about:
During the Kyoto Negotiations, the Clinton Admin suggested that a global market based mechanism should be established, based on the “historic success” of the US SO4 Emission Trading Scheme. It resulted in the Clean Development Mechanism. The first successful projects were “End of Pipe” projects that destroyed non-co2 greenhouse gases (no wonder, as it was designed as a copy of a mechanism designed for a sector where end-of-pipe solution work), quickly followed by projects that didn’t need the mechanism (large hydro power in China most famously). The US never bought those credits, but the EU-ETS did spent many billions on it. A lot of learnings from that period that will come into discussions later on.

Article 6 is the spiritual heir of said Clean Development Mechanism.

Article 6.2. offers countries the option to create bilateral flavors of the same idea. Currently Switzerland is the most advanced buyer country, which is how I personally fit into the picture, as my last job was working for them.
Article 6.4 will probably become something very similar to the old mechanism, where countries just say “yes please” and all administrative work is handled at UNFCCC headquarters.
Article 6.8. was a Bolivian idea and I don’t really understand what they want to achieve with it (except having a third option to get governance right).

These three will be actual “mechanisms”, i.e. everything that happens under those mechanisms is archived at the UN for history keeping during the coming period of climate catastrophe.

6.3 is giving national authority over anything happening though. Therefore, a lot of focus is on making all infrastructure work for governments, on local hardware. Ideally, anyone, anywhere can host an instance. I would expect the first non-state actor to run their own instance to be UNHCR.

Most governments in the world keep track of climate actions manually resp. in Excel sheets or shitty home cooked systems. Especially in small and/or developing countries, resources for this kind of admin-infrastructure are minimal, so UNDP (and UNFCCC to some degree) are supporting them.

I’ve just been hired by UNDP as project manager for the development of an Open Source implementation of national climate action registry as a “digitial public good” as defined by this link UNDP joins the Digital Public Goods Alliance to accelerate inclusive digital transformation | United Nations Development Programme.
The first users of such a tool would naturally be countries that do not have their own thing just yet. Vanuatu had previously developed a registry with UNDP support and agreed to open-source that code as a starting point.

But I need to take a step back here. I have not seen a proper architectural analysis of how registry entries under Paris actually should look like and interact with each other, so that they are secure enough for what could be the largest marketplace ever created in human history - It should be at least at last as the historic Integral over Coal, Oil and Gas markets…

There are some requirements from the Paris Texts, but those basically just define the name of a variable, not it’s file format, signatures etc. The architecture has to be ULTRA secure, as the system will be shared between various hostile state actors…

This is the level I wanted to hear your thoughts about. If we were to design a protocol for information exchange with those properties:

  • One overworked central organization tasked with keeping track of history (UNFCCC),

  • Approximately 200 entities accepted as nation state members + a whole lot of non-state actors, covering everything from indigenous associations to literal deathcults.

  • They need to be able to agree on one common source of truth

  • This truth is a record of all “climate actions” recognized under the Paris Agreement

  • People can keep receipts of those actions (“ITMO” for internationally transferable mitigation outcome, but the same applies for “adaptation” or “loss and damage” related actions)

  • The truth needs to follow Paris-Principles (real, verified, related to nationally determined contributions etc.) as much as possible

  • The users of the registry should be able to:

    • Post an idea
    • Accept gamblers money for idea implementation (“enable private investment” as they say).
    • monitor the implementation of the idea
    • report the implementation in a verifiable way
    • if verification is accepted, transfer a pre-defined number of ITMOs as specified in the funding gamble
    • keep track of all international gambles at UNFCCC
    • allow for the transfer of ITMOs across borders (this will remain manual for countries too scared to connect their servers to an adversarial environment i.e. Switzerland, but two instances of the FOSS registry should be able to handle automatic transfers).

There are some more properties that climate actions should fullfill under Paris, so the final product needs to include at least:

  • A tool for Stakeholder consultations and prior informed consent (resp. preferably: continous, real-time consent).

  • A human rights abuse detection mechanism.

So yeah. I wanted to hear your thoughts on the protocol design… Maybe starting with the file format for the thing that get’s internationally transferred, aka the famous “ITMO” ?

One thing it has to have for sure is space for a lot of stamps (i.e. national authorizations for creation, transfer and/or use under some national legal scheme).

hey, heads up i removed the name of person mentioned for privacy reasons. Just a good default practice

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Here the notes from the Call with the security researcher:

General Software Overview

  1. Someone has an idea for mitigating contaminants or something like that
  2. Project description must include stakeholder consultation stuff
  3. Their country’s government approves the idea, together with a proof of success mechanism, and a timeline for measurement, etc.
  4. Stamp the project
  5. Stamp on each monitoring report
  6. Gambler does due diligence to find such ideas, negotiates with the idea originator various things like payments, etc etc whatever, and pays for things
  7. Periodically, monitoring reports are produced to verify progress and results, which are then approved/stamped by the host government, and archived by the UN.
  8. Gambler can take copies of the monitoring reports to buyers, and sell them for money with some profit.

Need to monitor persistence of the idea over time

Monitoring reports generate magic units of value/“carbon” tonnes, etc.

How can monitoring be done distributed trustworthy hard-to-forge fashion?

How can we ensure that nothing bad is done in the solution to the problems? Human rights wise, and also con/fraud-wise/retroactive-wise.

How can we prevent monitoring report forgery?

  • Individual country registries
    • Stores project descriptions
    • Stores approvals
    • Stores submitted monitoring reports
    • Stamps monitoring reports
    • Records outgoing transfers of reports
    • UNCCC records transfers and sales of reports to third parties

Vital to put Global South in drivers seat

OECD countries have committed to buying

UNDP Team Mandate

  • Software for the individual country registries

  • Interface for climate activists to provide evidence of project progress in trusted secure trackable ways

  • NOT strictly speaking the UX for the end project developers but they do help on that

  • Split monitoring reports amongst different buyers

    • Monitoring reports might track huge quantities that no individual buyer wants to buy but smaller ones are separable
  • Detect and inform gamblers and end buyers about human rights violations for a specified project, and taking the project/credit off the market, and recording that permanently

  • All this information has to be publicly visible except perhaps the original “business plan” numerics (cash flow model, other financials) and the monitoring sensitive info/PII

  • Automating as much of this as possible is going to be important so that no legal system costs are incurred, and so that places where legality is flakey can’t exploit the flakeyness

  • Prior informed consent of the stakeholders/affected communities; ideally turn this into ongoing consent with a grievance mechanism

Open Questions

  • Protocol?

    • What information is being transmitted from host countries to the UN?
    • Key management???
  • UN key management, hardway keys, etc.?

  • How to store all of this data?

  • How to ensure that stakeholder needs drive the conversation about options for actions?

How can I help?

  • Help develop the protocol/file format for reports
  • Help think about cryptographic options in all respects
  • Help map out what information flows where
  • Review and comment on things
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