by Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press Posted Feb 28, 2017 2:30 am MDT Last Updated Feb 28, 2017 at 3:20 am MDT AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email Feds explore potential of ‘blockchain,’ billed as next-gen Internet technology OTTAWA – An emerging technology has caught the eye of the innovation-obsessed federal government — a platform so packed with potential, many experts believe it could comprise the foundation for the next generation of the Internet.Blockchain, as it’s known, holds a vast amount of promise for transforming business sectors and the lives of ordinary people around the world, although some say it’s too early to say how broad the technology’s reach could be.Like a giant digital bulletin board, blockchain creates an online ledger or database where records — financial transactions, for instance — can be shared, moved and maintained on a transparent network, all without compromising security.With such activities available to be seen by a blockchain’s many collaborators, the system is inherently secure, making it far less vulnerable to tampering, hacking and corruption than current systems, which depend on information being managed by intermediaries.Experts say Canada has shown considerable potential in these early days of blockchain — and they believe it’s key for the country to help create conditions to keep the momentum going.Ottawa has taken notice; widening the path for more blockchain development would fit nicely with the Trudeau government’s stated goal of increasing innovation as a way to help jump-start Canada’s lacklustre economy.In December, senior government officials, including then-international trade minister Chrystia Freeland, met to discuss the concept with executives from companies, big banks, regulators and the tech sector.The attendees at the meeting explored the feasibility of Canada becoming a global hub for the blockchain “revolution,” according to the agenda.“Basically, blockchain technology represents nothing short of the second generation of the Internet,” said Alex Tapscott, who co-hosted the roundtable.Tapscott, CEO of blockchain advisory firm Northwest Passage Ventures, believes the technology represents a potential foundation for an innovation economy in Canada, and could prove instrumental in sparking a new industrial revolution.Blockchain is the technology behind bitcoin, a digital currency without links to governments or banks, enabling people to engage in anonymous online transactions without the need for intermediaries.Its possibilities stretch far beyond cutting out the middleman in financial transactions, which often create higher costs for users and extra delays from processing times.They range from improving the efficiency of government services, to developing robust electronic-voting systems, to building reliable land-registry systems. It can also slash costs for international cash transfers and keep personal data out of the hands of profiteering third parties.Some believe blockchain will have the power to counter inequality and help deliver more prosperity to poorer parts of the world.Federal departments are in the process of working to understand the concept and are at the early stages of creating policies around it, particularly in areas such as privacy, banking and cybersecurity, said one government source who spoke on condition of anonymity.Canada is ranked third in the world behind the United States and the United Kingdom when it comes to blockchain startups, said the source, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.The Bank of Canada has promoted its efforts to study the technology in collaboration with big banks, Payments Canada and the financial innovation company R3 Lab and Research Centre.“By some weird accident, Canada and Toronto have actually emerged already as one of the leading areas in the world in blockchain innovation,” said Tapscott, who co-authored a book with his father Don entitled “Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World.”“But that lead won’t last unless we can get everybody working off of the same plan sheet and driving in the same direction.”Jeremy Clark, a blockchain expert from Montreal’s Concordia University, said regulators can help the technology expand in Canada —something he believes would lift economic growth.“The more these bodies can do to sort of pave the road, I think that would give Canada an edge over other countries,” said Clark, who has closely studied how blockchain can be used in electronic voting systems.“Canada can be a leader. Will it be the world leader? I’m not sure. I think the U.S. probably has us beat, but absolutely Canada can be one of the top-5 countries developing blockchain technologies.”Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva launches State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2016 report, at FAO headquarters, Rome. Photo: FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto However, it is agriculture, including forestry, fisheries and livestock production, which is contributing to a warmer world by generating around a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, agriculture must both contribute more to combating climate change while bracing to overcome its impacts, the report says.Time for actionWithout action, agriculture will continue to be a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. But by adopting climate-smart practices and increasing the capacity of soils and forests to sequester carbon, emissions can be reduced while stepping up food production to feed the world’s growing population, the report says.The report provides evidence that adoption of climate-smart practices, such as the use of nitrogen-efficient and heat-tolerant crop varieties, zero-tillage and integrated soil fertility management would boost productivity and farmers’ incomes. Widespread adoption of nitrogen-efficient practices alone would reduce the number of people at risk of undernourishment by more than 100 million, the report estimates.It also identifies avenues to lower emission intensity from agriculture. Water-conserving alternatives to the flooding of rice paddies can slash methane emissions by 45 per cent, while emissions from the livestock sector can be reduced by up to 41 per cent through the adoption of more efficient practices. “2016 should be about putting commitments into action,” urged Mr. Graziano da Silva, noting the international community last year agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change, which is expect to come into force early next month. Agriculture will be high on the agenda at the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known by the shorthand COP 22, in Morocco starting on 7 November.Helping small farmers adapt to climate change risks is criticalDeveloping countries are home to around half a billion small farm families who produce food and other agricultural products in greatly varying agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions. Solutions have to be tailored to those conditions; there is no one-size-fits-all fix. Helping smallholders adapt to climate change risks is critical for global poverty reduction and food security. Close attention should be paid to removing obstacles they may face and fostering an enabling environment for individual, joint and collective action, according to the report.FAO urges policy-makers to identify and remove such barriers. These obstacles can include input subsidies that promote unsustainable farming practices, poorly aligned incentives and inadequate access to markets, credit, extension services and social protection programmes, and often disadvantage women, who make up to 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force. The report stresses that more climate finance is needed to fund developing countries’ actions on climate change. International public finance for climate change adaptation and mitigation is growing and, while still relatively small, can act as a catalyst to leverage larger flows of public and private investments. More climate finance needs to flow to sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry to fund the large-scale transformation and the development of climate-smart food production systems. “There is no doubt climate change affects food security,” said the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, as he presented The State of Food and Agriculture 2016 report at the agency’s headquarters in Rome.“What climate change does is to bring back uncertainties from the time we were all hunter gatherers. We cannot assure any more that we will have the harvest we have planted,” he added.That uncertainty also translates into volatile food prices, he noted. “Everybody is paying for that, not only those suffering from droughts,” Mr. Graziano da Silva said.What climate change does is to bring back uncertainties from the time we were all hunter gatherers. We cannot assure any more that we will have the harvest we have plantedFAO warns that a ‘business as usual’ approach could put millions more people at risk of hunger, than in a future without climate change. Most affected would be populations in poor areas in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia, especially those who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. Future food security in many countries will worsen if no action is taken today.“The benefits of adaptation outweigh the costs of inaction by very wide margins,” emphasized Mr. Graziano da Silva.