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Column: Can big data save our planet’s forests?

Are we winning the fight against deforestation? Now there’s a way to check – and hold businesses and governments to account, write Oliver Mylius and Hans Zomer.

Image: earlytwenties via Shutterstock

TODAY IS INTERNATIONAL Day of Forests – a day that may completely slip past many people’s radar. Have you ever wondered how the Brazilian rain forest is doing, though? Do you think that, worldwide, there are more trees being planted than are harvested? Are we winning the fight against deforestation?

A project launched last month will make it possible to monitor the health of the world’s forests, from the comfort of your own home (or office), through an interactive world map. At the click of a mouse it is now possible to monitor and analyse the latest changes in forests around the globe. This gives environmentalists a new tool in the fight to curb deforestation, which despite some encouraging progress in recent years is still alarmingly high.

Global Forest Watch is the name of the programme, launched at the end of February in Washington DC. It is the result of collaboration between the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), The World Resources Initiative, Google and more than 40 other partners. By combining satellite technology and cloud computing from Google, Global Forest Watch is meeting a need for better information on forest conditions.

“Businesses, governments and communities are desperate for better information on forests. Now they have it,” said Dr Andrew Steer, President of the World Resources Initiative. “Global Forest Watch is a platform that will fundamentally change the way individuals and businesses relate to forests. From now on, anyone who damages forests will not be able to hide, while those that benefit forests will be recognised for their leadership,” he said.

Local and global opportunities

UNEP expects that Global Forest Watch can be used for a variety of purposes by different actors. Companies that buy natural resources, can use the programme to analyse whether logging in the area meets the legal and environmental standards of them, and timber companies can use the programme to demonstrate that they meet these standards. At the same time, NGOs, communities and individuals can use the programme to collect evidence of illegal logging and hold businesses and governments to account.

“How we treat the world’s forests is now both a local and a global concern, and technological developments have given Global Forest Watch an unprecedented opportunity to unite not just information and data, but people, whether they are  foresters, businesses or consumers, “said Achim Steiner, Managing Director of UNEP and the Deputy Secretary General of the UN.

Global Forest Watch is now online in a beta version and can be used free of charge globalforestwatch.org.

Oliver Mylius is a journalist at World’s Best News, Denmark, and a former press officer at Amnesty International Denmark. Hans Zomer is the Director of Dóchas.

More stories like this can be found at World’s Best News, a news service initiative from Irish NGOs which aims to highlight positive news stories from around the globe. Visit facebook.com/TheWorldsBestNews/ or worldsbestnews.tumblr.com for more information.

Read: Forestry Inventory finds 10.5% of Ireland’s total land area is forest

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