Blockchain meets planetary health: exploring web3's potential in environmental challenges

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Planetary health focuses on the association between climate change and human health. Recently, blockchain (web3) technologies have been used by many studies to assess planetary health.

In a recent Challenges journal review, scientists discuss the intersection of web3 and planetary health.

Study: Addressing Planetary Health through the Blockchain—Hype or Hope? A Scoping Review. Image Credit: greenbutterfly / Shutterstock.com

Planetary health and blockchain technology

Planetary health is an emerging field that addresses the anthropogenic impacts of Earth’s natural systems and how they affect the environment, society, and human health. Planetary health has been defined as the achievement of the highest attainable standard of health, well-being, and equity worldwide through judicious attention to political, economic, and social systems that shape the future of humanity and Earth’s natural systems that define the safe environmental limits within which humanity can flourish.

Blockchains are a distributed ledger technology that allows data to be recorded and distributed reliably across a peer network. The term ‘blockchain’ is sometimes interchangeably used with ‘cryptocurrency’ and web3.

Cryptocurrency is a decentralized digital currency housed on the blockchain, whereas web3 refers to a new era of the internet that can read, write, and own data. Similarly, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have been deployed by several charities to raise funds.

Conceptually, planetary health and blockchain share certain similarities. For example, planetary health defines the complex system that affects many coordination issues. Therefore, centralizing specific features like early warning systems and environmental mitigation responses would benefit localized actions and community-targeted responses.

Blockchain offers tools that help manage the complexity of and coordinate decentralized entities and centralizing interventions. The application of blockchain has uncovered novel forms of financing.

Few studies have explored the nexus of blockchain technology and planetary health, particularly with the application of web3 solutions to mitigate planetary health challenges.

About the study

The current study systematically analyzed academic literature that connected the web3 and planetary health interface. More specifically, the key shared principles and objectives between planetary health and web3 were assessed to determine areas of potential collaboration. 

All considered studies were associated with climate change and health, indigenous health, ecology and health, population health, interconnectivity and health, OneHealth, health equity, and global health. These studies were obtained from various databases, including Global Health, Scopus, IEEE Xplore, Geobase, Ovid Medline, Web of Science, and ACM Digital Library. 

Study findings

A total of 3,245 articles were identified in the initial screening. After removing duplicate articles and considering the eligibility criteria, 23 articles were included in the review.

The current study highlighted the practical applications of the blockchain in planetary health. There is no defined path to progress in the field of planetary health; however, the current review identifies some of the approaches linked to devices, financing, medicines, and research that might help progress this field.

Previous studies have highlighted the application of blockchain technology in the health sector. This study specifically excluded the majority of articles that used electronic health records and included only those linked to individual or hospital-level interventions.

Blockchain applications have remained scarce at the level of public goods; however, a wider application was observed across early warning systems, environmental monitoring, and supply chains. Understanding how blockchains obtain, rely on, and process data is essential. 

Data generated from electronic watches and weather stations can be fed to a pre-programmed blockchain, which can generate a code to induce smart responses. In the case of planetary health, automated code could use early warning systems, catalytic financing, evacuation warnings, or public health messaging at a particular threshold data, such as pollution levels or adverse temperature. 

The application of blockchain promotes transparency of aid and philanthropic financing. Furthermore, it reduces unnecessary bureaucracy and decentralizes decision-making power. Several studies have shown that blockchain technologies can leverage global sustainability challenges, including planetary health.

Values-based alignments were observed between web3 and planetary health. The web3 technology can support processes that are important to achieve planetary health.

Decentralization, which involves moving power away from centralized institutions, could address tackling planetary health. Blockchain technology supports the development of Decentralised Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) with independent rules and structures to promote collective decision-making.

Conclusions

The current review is the first to systematically assess existing literature and provide an overview of planetary health and blockchain. Herein, the researchers highlight how web3 can be applied to planetary health.

The study findings demonstrate that the scope of blockchain technology is expanding beyond financial markets to a wide range of thematic areas. Thus, more academic research is needed to better understand the optimal application of web3 to planetary health.

Journal reference:
  • Issa, R., Wood, C., Rajagopalan, S., et al. (2024) Addressing Planetary Health through the Blockchain—Hype or Hope? A Scoping Review. Challenges 15(1);3. doi:10.3390/challe15010003
Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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