Technology to the Rescue For Forests

We’ve written about the rising problem of illegal logging, now responsible for much of the world’s loss of forests.

Now, an important technology platform may help bring that to an end.

Global Forest Watch 2.0 will bring near-real-time mapping and social networking together to quickly spot where deforestation is taking place and alert networks to take action before it’s too late. 

The system combines satellite data with remote sensing technology to bring high-resolution maps online in near real-time. It will also draw from crowd-sourced data, including from local communities.

To be launched this spring, Forest 2.0 is developed by a partnership convened by the World Resources Institute, which includes the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and businesses and NGOs from around the world.

Until now, the usefulness of satellite images is limited because of the long time lag in getting them online. By the time people see them, the forests are cut, cattles are grazing (or palm trees are growing) and criminals are long gone.

It typically takes 3-5 years to produce a national forest cover map.

"Technologies such as Global Forest Watch 2.0 have the potential to democratize management and protection of forests. Imagine an analyst from a forest conservation group in Jakarta receives an alert via Facebook showing where deforestation has occurred. He then notifies the authorities who head to the location to take pictures and upload them, starting an effort to save the park and apprehend the illegal loggers," explains Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP and Andrew Steer, CEO of the World Resources Institute in The Guardian.

It will also help corporations that have committed to sourcing products only from sustainable sources.

"Or consider the vice-president of sustainability at a major global corporation tasked with ensuring that the firm purchases palm oil from responsible suppliers. She is concerned about a supplier in Ecuador whose plantations are located within critical forest habitat. She accesses the new system online and discovers that primary forest in the critical, off-limits corridor has been cleared. The company can immediately suspend its purchases and use the information to confront the supplier," they note.


Clearcutting forests produces about 17% of greenhouse gas emissions, 50% more than that from ships, aviation and land transport combined. And since over 80% of the world’s forests are already destroyed, we can’t afford to lose more. 

Illegal logging accounts for 50-90% of all logging in key areas – the Amazon and Congo basins and in southeast Asia and is worth $30-100 billion a year in global trade, according to Green Carbon: Black Trade. 

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