How Global Forest Watch is changing the way we fight deforestation

map of kenya deforestation
Screen capture Global Forest Watch

Global Forest Watch, an online mapping tool for detecting forest change, launched less than six months ago. Since then, the site is already being put to use by a number of governments and environmental organizations to better protect their forests.

The World Resource Institute built the partnership behind the site, which combines data from Google, NASA and other sources. “It’s something that any citizen in the world can use,” said Lalanabth de Sliva, of the World Resource Institute. Since its launch, the site has had 360,000 unique visitors and over a million page views, which includes users from almost every country on earth.

Before the project was launched, there were significant challenges to accessing data about forests. The information was often only available in hard-copy reports, which could become outdated rapidly due to the pace of deforestation.

The site offers a number of different ways to look at forests, including maps over time and analysis of countries or regions defined by the user. Users can also apply other map layers, which show protected areas, palm oil production, logging concessions and tree cover density.

Brazil is a leader in using updated satellite monitoring to fight deforestation, with the country’s monitoring program going back to 1988. Satellite monitoring helped the government of Brazil launch targeted police investigations, as well as community efforts. The government has been able to decrease the rate of deforestation by half, according to Minister Councellor Antonia Ricarte. Global Forest Watch will now allow the government to have even more up-to-date data.

The African Apes Initiative is working to protect habitat for great apes, including gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees. Jef Dupain, director of African Apes Initiative, said that the organization works to bring together the needs of local communities and the need to protect biodiversity. The organization helps communities by providing agricultural expertise, which helps proved alternative livelihoods to deforestation-related activities. The African Apes Initiative currently has projects in the Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dja Biosphere Reserve in northern Cameroon and Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal. They now use Global Forest Watch help monitor key ecosystems, particularly to identify slash-and-burn areas.

To further encourage community conservation efforts, Global Forest Watch offers small one-year grants. De Sliva, who sits on the fund board, said that the grants support on-the-ground project in advocacy and better forest management.

Global Forest Watch/Screen capture

The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, more succinctly known as REDD, has adopted the tool at a number of different projects in developing nations around the world. “We’re not looking to replace the monitoring, reporting, verification that’s done with a more scientific background, where you look at the full carbon stocks and so on.” said Niklas Hagelberg, a Programme Officer for the UN Environmental Programme’s policy division who works with REDD. “But this helps with the management.” REDD has pilot projects using Global Forest Watch to monitor hotspots in Madagascar and Kenya.

With the help of REDD, the government of Georgia also plans to use Global Forest Watch said Nino Sharashidze, First Deputy Minster of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection. The country started to reform its forestry practices in 2013, but has struggled with a lack of baseline data. The site can help them fill these gaps.

Hagelberg said that Global Forest Watch could also serve as a performance management tool. It could be used to hold rangers, local administrators and even ministers accountable if you have a problem year after year. “I could imagine that some governments could consider this too much transparency,” said Hagelberg.

Check out Global Forest Watch for yourself here!

Tags: Deforestation | Forestry