Global Forest Watch 2.0

April 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Just recently, a new forest monitoring technology, called Global Forest Watch 2.0, was introduced at the UN Forum on Forests. The advent of this new tool will hopefully have a large influence on illegal deforestation that occurs in forests across the world.

Photo Credit: Moyan_Brenn, Flickr Creative CommonsForests are important to us for so many reasons. They are places we can observe and enjoy, they provide us with a beautiful and natural landscape, and they’re home to many complex ecosystems and species. Furthermore, from a climate change perspective, the forests are a vital carbon sink, absorbing large amounts of the gases we emit into the atmosphere (oceans and forests absorb almost half of human emissions). Plus, 17 percent of human emissions of greenhouse gases come from deforestation itself, yet another reason why intact forests are vital to the health of the planet. Local communities also rely on forests, depending on its resources for sustenance as well as livelihood (selling fruits, plants, etc.).

The problem with forests, however, is that they’re also extremely valuable as lumber and timber. Even with local and large scale government attempts to protect the forests, illegal logging is still widespread, especially in the Amazon, the Congo basin and Southeast Asia where there are big swaths of unmonitored forest. In fact, 50-90% of the logging that occurs in these areas is illegal, demonstrating the gravity and intensity of this problem, especially considering how densely and diversely populated the forests are with plant and animal species that rely on the forest being intact.

The main problem over the years hasn’t been that we’re not aware of this illegal activity, it’s rather that it can be hard to spot in time to stop it. Mapping the forests can take years, and by the time a fresh map displays signs of illegal logging, those people have already moved off and won’t be there by the time anyone gets to the site. And so, this billion dollar trade industry has established itself and managed to evade those who seek to protect the forests and keep them intact.

That’s what makes the arrival of the Global Forest Watch 2.0 so exciting: it offers a new, easier, and faster way to track the forests and catch illegal activity while it’s happening. The new technology combines various elements, such as satellite, mobile phone tracking, improved maps, internet access and community engagement to create an effective system. In this day and age, where some countries have better access to internet and mobile service than to freshwater, the GFW 2.0 is using that to its advantage, allowing people in the field to contribute to the monitoring system. For example, they can send in a picture and mapped location from their mobile phones at the site of illegal activity, creating a more live-stream mapping effect with constant live updates.

GFW 2.0 was engineered by Google Earth and Earth Builder, after World Resources Institute came up with the idea (with assistance and encouragement of the UN Environmental Programme). The technology will allow governments and local communities to work together to enforce stricter regulation over the forests and catch illegal activity more efficiently. Furthermore, it will provide the maps with up-to-date and accurate information, which will subsequently mean that taking action to prevent the destruction of the forests will be founded on sound reasoning and scientific evidence that the problem actually exists and needs to be addressed.

This technology will help many countries with diverse and bountiful forests, not just developing countries. In fact, developed countries often have just as hard a time monitoring the forests. The technology to monitor is expensive and time intensive, and often, it seems that more effort goes into monitoring and identifying the problem rather than taking solid action to address it. There are already some success stories, however, such as Brazil.

Brazil has been extremely successful in stopping illegal deforestation in its forests over the last couple decades. Photo credit: Flickr, Creative Commons, PlanetObserver

Brazil has been extremely successful in stopping illegal deforestation in its forests over the last couple decades. Photo credit: Flickr, Creative Commons, PlanetObserver

Since implementing new monitoring technologies in 2004, Brazil has curbed its illegal deforestation activity by 80%! This shows a remarkable improvement and one that other countries (both developed and developing) can hope for in the near future with the help of GFW 2.0.

For more information, you can go to the World Resources Institute page describing it.

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