in Indonesia

A new project aimed at stopping forest fires in Aceh province, Indonesia involves blockchain, a smart contract, a decentralised platform for Ethereum, and Dorjee Sun. What could possibly go wrong?

Dorjee Sun is the CEO of Carbon Conservation, a company set up 10 years ago to run REDD projects. The company’s first REDD project was the Ulu Masen REDD project, in Aceh province on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Sun partnered with Aceh’s “green governor”, Yusuf Irwandi, and Flora and Fauna International, to run the carbon trading project.

But the REDD project failed and no carbon credits were ever sold from the Ulu Masen project.

In 2012, Yusuf Irwandi lost the election in Aceh. The new governor was Zaini Abdullah, who showed little interest in protecting Aceh’s forests.

Earlier this year Yusuf was re-elected as governor of Aceh. And Carbon Conservation is back in Aceh.

Smart Contract for Good

In November 2017, EcoBusiness reported that,

Spearheaded by industry group Carbon Conservation, the Smart Contract for Good programme will automatically distribute funding to villages in Aceh when they successfully reduce incidences of fire, in a pilot project beginning next month.

EcoBusiness tells us that US$100,000 “has been pledged to the project by Indonesian corporate sponsors”. But Sun didn’t tell EcoBusiness which companies have pledged the money.

The project will use blockchain technology and a smart contract.

Blockchain gets rid of the need for banks in financial transactions, instead using a network of thousands of computers. Here’s how Investopedia defines a blockchain:

A blockchain is a digitized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions. Constantly growing as ‘completed’ blocks (the most recent transactions) are recorded and added to it in chronological order, it allows market participants to keep track of digital currency transactions without central recordkeeping. Each node (a computer connected to the network) gets a copy of the blockchain, which is downloaded automatically.

And Investopedia defines smart contracts follows:

Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement between buyer and seller being directly written into lines of code. The code and the agreements contained therein exist across a distributed, decentralized blockchain network. Smart contracts permit trusted transactions and agreements to be carried out among disparate, anonymous parties without the need for a central authority, legal system, or external enforcement mechanism. They render transactions traceable, transparent, and irreversible.

Dorjee Sun’s smart contract in Aceh is called “Smart Contract for Good”. Funding will be released automatically. The amount of funding to be released is determined based on satellite imaging technology, or site inspections.

Dappbase: A decentralized infrastructure platform for the Ethereum Network

A company called Dappbase is the technology partner in the project. Dappbase is a decentralised platform that allows developers to build applications on the Ethereum blockchain. (Ethereum is a cryptocurrecy, like the better known BitCoin, but Ethereum is also a ledger technology that companies are using to build new programmes.)

Dorjee Sun is an adviser to Dappbase.

Dappbase and Carbon Conservation told EcoBusiness they would “launch crowdfunding portals on their respective websites to allow individual and corporate donors to contribute”. So far, that hasn’t happened on either website.

Here’s a screenshot of Dappbase’s website:

That seems to be it. There’s nothing to click on. There is, however, more information under (strictly for geeks, though).

Here’s a screenshot of Carbon Conservation’s website (still featuring the non-existent Ulu Masen project):

Dappbase’s page on GitHub has disappeared. (Github is a website where programmers can upload their latest projects and network with people interested in the work.)

The CEO of Dappbase is Taiyang Zhang. Dorjee Sun and Zhang are working together in a company called Virgil Capital, which describes itself as “A Diversified Blockchain Fund Specializing In Arbitrage”. The company was set up in February 2017, but the website still seems to be a work in progress:

The text under each name reads, “The following is placeholder text known as “lorem ipsum,” which is scrambled Latin used by designers to mimic real copy.”

What could possibly go wrong?

Yusuf Irwandi, Aceh’s governor seems happy with Sun’s project. He told EcoBusiness that,

“After announcing a forest-clearing moratorium 10 years ago, we in Aceh still protect the forest with no financial help from the international community.

“Maybe finally with satellite proof and smart contracts the villagers who conserve the forest of Aceh can be rewarded. The forest is best protected by those who live in the forest, not by those who have big pens and big mouths.”

Yusuf seems to have forgotten that the biggest of the big mouths 10 years ago was Dorjee Sun. He made plenty of very big promises like this one,

“The business model of this business is so cool. It’s the more forest that we manage and protect, the more money we make. I mean, bring it on, baby! Like if we could have millions and millions of hectares under our management protecting forest and farming carbon, this could be a hugely profitable and yet hugely well intentioned company that does good.”

But Sun delivered nothing. This time round instead of REDD and carbon credits, Sun has moved onto blockchain and smart contracts. But similar questions arise:

  1. How will the payments be calculated?
  2. What happens if payments are made, but the forest is burned down a week later?
  3. Is a version of the smart contract available in Bahasa Indonesian, or English, or just in computer code? Will this be made public, and if so when?
  4. Who will analyse the satellite images to determine whether the forest remains standing? Who will carry out the ground truthing? How will these operations be paid for?
  5. Was a process of free, prior and informed consent carried out with the villagers before the project was developed?
  6. Where is the money coming from for the project?
  7. EcoBusiness reports that the money from the project will go “towards building infrastructure such as schools and hospitals to benefit the community”. Will villagers be involved in the decisions about how the money is to be spent?
  8. Where is the project area? How many hectares does it cover? How many villages are involved? Will the project expand if more funding becomes available?
  9. How will the problem of “leakage” be addressed? In other words, if forest fires are reduced in the project area, what happens if fires outside the project area increase?
  10. Will this latest project involve carbon trading?

I’ve sent these questions to Dorjee Sun and look forward to posting his response in full and unedited.

In FebruaryDecember 2013, I sent a series of questions to Dorjee Sun about the failed Ulu Masen REDD project. Four years later, I’m still waiting for his answer.

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  1. I am just an ordinary old man from Scotland, a country that lost its native forests two centuries or more ago. I have had a concern for the forests of the Earth for fifty years, during which period of time, I joined many different groups and sent them donations to help save tropical rainforests or whatever. I became a member of Survival International, the tribal rights organisation, as they had projects involving native peoples struggling to contend with oil and gas, gold, ranching, palm oil and logging interests. I was not alone, as, at last, from a great sleep, many people from many countries began to show a similar humane concern. I still do send my relatively small donations, hoping that the land purchased by the valiant trusts, foundations, funds and concerns, will be protected and able to withstand the developers and machinations of corrupt governments.

    However, I now do believe, despite all the warnings by David Attenborough, our modern day prophet of environmental and species extinction, doom, that our planet will succumb to the vast network of corruption, human over population and erroneous economic policies. What final state will we humans find we are living in? The overall state of mind of the political and economic resource organisers, is one of selfish and irrational greed, with no real compassionate concern for biodiversity and the installation of strict planetary controls, coupled with reducing human population to a level whereby restoration of the world environment can take place. Plastic pollution of the oceans; warming of atmosphere/climate change; over-fishing; large-scale deforestation; wildfires; persistent and unrelenting persecution of endangered species; fast changing bacterial and viral strains affecting farm animal and food crops; human dependency through ageing and disease increase; nuclear proliferation; gross political corruption; sectarian religious wars; fresh water scarcity; poor banking management threatening more economic recessions; people trafficking; drug provision on an increasing scale, along with greater criminality. How can decent politicians and others, tackle the world environment problems, when so many factors are dragging the forces of conservation and economic rationality, backwards into an abyss? The grip multinational companies and countries with severe people controls, have on the mindset of most people, through distorted news, is holding back progress in awakening humanity to the terrible predicaments we will eventually face.

  2. The website has disappeared.

    As has the “Team” page on Virgil Capital’s website. According to his LinkedIn page, Taiyang Zhang left Virgil Capital in January 2018.