Environmental Governance in an Internet of Things Ecosystem: Stress-testing risks and inflated expectations

The Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem is characterised by a proliferation of visible and hidden sensors that collect and transmit data, systems that process, interpret and then make use of the aggregate information. The IoT is already being used to collect, aggregate and analyse increasingly large data sets to support distributed ledger technologies, commonly referred to as the Blockchain, in various sectors: transport, health, finance, justice, insurance and commodities trading. The hype around both the IoT and Blockchain has fuelled expectations that all areas of resource management and environmental governance, including climate change, waste management and agriculture could benefit.

Collectively IoT ecosystems technologies are promoted for delivering a transparent and secure means to achieve many environmental governance objectives. Advocates characterise the IoT ecosystem for its potential to deliver one, or a combination of, the following: the reduction in the risk of corruption, greenhouse gas emissions, illegal exploitation of natural resources, biodiversity protection and an increase in the potential to distribute economic benefits more equitably amongst various communities. Many of these expectations are founded on a misguided understanding of the technologies involved and a lack of critical reflection on their relationship with political, economic and social systems. To date the risks that come with the embedding IoT ecosystem technologies into various environmental governance systems have received limited attention. This presentation critically examines the use of IoT and blockchain applications to advance environmental governance goals. It provides an analytical framework to stress-test IoT technologies and the potential risks they can pose to environmental governance.

Dr Feja Lesniewska is a research associate at STEaPP UCL and a senior teaching fellow at SOAS University of London. Her research has focused on transnational forest law and policy, climate change and energy law and more recently information and communication technologies law and governance. Feja is currently a researching the IoT, security and the protection of critical infrastructure on the PETRAS ESPRC funded project.