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From Climate Chaos to Climate Hope New initiative puts the power of change back into consumers’ hands Author: Toco (Stellenbosch, South Africa - March 2023) The challenge of human-caused climate change is undoubtedly immense: carbon emissions, which are closely linked to economic activity, must be halved by 2030 to avoid the worst. Climate scientists say the world needs to move more than five times faster in decarbonising the global economy. And decades of warnings have led to 'climate fatigue' among many people. But the situation is far from hopeless. Green technologies are already transforming industries around the world, like ever-cheaper renewable energy options and the rise in sales of electric vehicles. Everyday citizens are turning into climate heroes with positive, cheap and easy solutions for themselves and their communities; while an emerging breed of climate tech entrepreneurs are finding ways to accelerate change. Paul Rowett, CEO and co-founder of Toco, a South African born initiative which turns consumers’ everyday purchases into easy climate action, explains, “Accelerated climate change and the removal of carbon from the atmosphere are some of humanity’s greatest existential challenges. No wonder the average person feels completely overwhelmed when they consider how much effort is required to make a difference. There is no other generation that is going to solve this. We are all part of the Climate Change Generation - it’s up to us to address it. We knew there had to be a way to make climate action even more accessible while also accelerating carbon reductions.”
Along with Rowett (who co-founded the ed-tech company, Lobster Ink), Toco’s other co-founders are Niel Schoeman and Joe Pretorius (co-founders of Vumatel, the company which introduced fibre internet solutions to South African homes). When asked how Toco was conceptualised, Pretorius explains it was due to the team’s own sense of frustration: “We realised that until society could become far less dependent on fossil fuels or habitually start placing more value on natural resources, the world would need climate action solutions that could put the power back into the average person’s hands.”
“Instinctively, we knew it had to be something everyone could adopt into their daily lives with relative ease. To be able to move the needle on carbon reductions, it had to be infinitely scalable, widely used, and accessible. It would need to have the capability to create exponential change, and be something that people use and value every single day. Money and daily transactions ticked all those boxes.” Toco came into being as a carbon-based currency and global payment platform. The result is that ‘money’ can be stored as tonnes of carbon in a digital wallet on mobile phones, turning everyday purchases into climate action. Each toco represents one tonne of carbon removed from the atmosphere, and which has been independently verified as carbon emission reductions. It can be used to pay for services and products, or to count achieved carbon reductions.
Pretorius sums it up as follows, “Think of it like the gold standard. But instead of mining gold to fill the vaults of central banks so they can print money to fuel the economy, we mine carbon from the atmosphere to support the economy’s money needs. The gold standard leads to immense investment in mining activity. Toco does the same, but for carbon removal. People use money every day. If even a small percentage of the world’s daily transactions could be used to drive climate action, it would create a massive funding funnel to fight climate change.” Toco is short for tonne of OCO (OCO being the molecular formula for carbon dioxide) and is based on a vision to turn the natural environment back into an asset. At the same time, it aims to create a consumer mindset that gives back to nature rather than taking away from it. “We want to make it easier for communities to remove carbon from the atmosphere,” Schoeman explains. “It also allows people to overcome the psychological barrier that their actions won’t make a difference. It places a greater value on nature, and empowers people to actively participate in climate action on a daily basis.”
Initially launched in Stellenbosch, the initiative will be rolled out to the rest of South Africa and the world soon. With the Stellenbosch project, the team set out to demonstrate how communities and businesses alike could collectively create demand for carbon removal through something as simple as their daily transactions.
“We’ve had huge buy-in from both businesses and the community of Stellenbosch,” says Rowett. “There is a groundswell of excitement every time the penny drops that this is not only an evolution of money - it is a practical way to take care of the planet. Yes, it is money. But reimagined, responsible and digital. Imagine if protecting a forest was seen as equally or more valuable than mining for gold, oil or gas. Anything resulting in carbon reduction - whether it’s renewable energy solutions, regenerative agricultural practices, a reforestation project in Madagascar, or a direct air capture factory in Iceland - should be regarded as a valuable asset for humanity and the global economy.” Professor Guy Midgley, who heads up Stellenbosch University’s School of Climate Studies and is regarded as one of the world’s most influential climate scientists, supports the initiative: “The beauty of toco is that its value will always be equal to the value of a tonne of stored carbon. Think of it like linking a currency to a carbon standard. This allows anyone to invest in the vital effort to ‘mine’ CO2 out of the atmosphere, and store it where it cannot cause global warming. By collectively growing the toco economy, carbon reduction is accelerated and carbon markets - the trading systems in which carbon credits are bought and sold - can grow. This, in turn, stimulates and incentivises further investment in carbon removal activities and projects.”
Michael Jordaan, founder of Bank Zero and former FNB CEO, is an early investor to the initiative. He says, “This is a profound concept. It can democratise the carbon markets and enable communities to take part in the battle against climate change. It can completely transform how the world thinks about money, the economy and the environment. This is money 2.0.”
The toco payment platform is built using blockchain technology. Pretorius underscores the importance of not confusing toco with cryptocurrencies. “Because of the global challenge we are trying to solve, we’ve purposefully developed toco to integrate with and support all existing financial, regulatory and compliance systems.” Standard Bank Corporate and Investment Banking Head of Operations, Richard de Roos, says, “We don’t regard toco as a cryptocurrency. The only thing toco has in common with it is the blockchain technology to make transaction settlements possible. Contrary to popular misconception, blockchain is not limited to the cryptocurrency industry - it’s a mechanism already widely implemented by many industries. Because toco’s blockchain is non-anonymous and permissioned, and all toco wallet users have to undergo a verification process (like being verified when opening a bank account), it sets it apart even further.” Rowett concludes, “Toco offers a way to continue to grow economies, but not at the expense of nature. See it as a movement towards creating a globally adopted Carbon Standard instead of the traditional Gold Standard. It allows economies to grow while placing an intrinsic value on the natural world. By making it possible for every single person to take meaningful climate action every day, it gives people the power to create demand for the preservation of the planet’s natural ecosystem. In this way, we can all play a role to give the earth more room to breathe.” The platform is available to users on web, Android and iOS and can be downloaded from the respective app stores. The app is free. For media enquiries, visuals or interview requests, contact Dominique Forbes-Rose on 063 205 7280, or email firstname.lastname@example.org