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"Unprecedented" forest protection platform launched

A GFW visualization of tree cover loss and gain in Indonesia. Courtesy of WRI, 2014

A Global Forest Watch visualization of tree cover loss and gain in Indonesia. Courtesy of WRI, 2014

A new tool that allows users to digitally track an array of forest-related data was released Thursday by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Dubbed Global Forest Watch, the tool, which was developed over several year by over 40 partner organizations, compiles data related to the world’s forests and displays it on a Google-based map platform. Much of the platform’s dataset originates from NASA satellites, including nearly 700,000 Landsat images.

In a statement, Andrew Steer, WRI’s president and CEO, said:

Businesses, governments, and communities desperately want better information about forests. Now they have it. Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests.

Global Forest Watch illustrates trends in deforestation, forest recovery, and industrial forest expansion, and has the ability to show which forest areas are being used for logging, mining, palm oil production, and wood fiber plantations. It also maps protected areas and biodiversity hotspots.

WRI hopes that its new tool will increase transparency and be of use to corporations, governments, and environmental advocates alike. Some of the data, for instance will help multinational companies—like Nestlé and Kellogg’s—who have pledged to use only “deforestation free” palm oil in their products.

Duncan Pollard, Nestlé’s Head of Stakeholder Engagement in Sustainability, said:

It’s going to help our suppliers demonstrate that they are indeed also free of deforestation. And it’s going to help us monitor and report on the progress that we make on to our global commitment.

According to WRI, the new platform also has considerable applications for governments around the world. Many nations lack the resources to detect illegal forest clearing as they move from policies that encouraged rampant deforestation to ones that promote sustainable forest management.

Rebecca Moore, Engineering Manager at Google Earth Outreach, highlighted the responsiveness of the tool, which provides a constant stream of new data:

It’s possible for the first time to have this near-real time update of the world’s forests. That has never existed before. It’s quite unprecedented.

Additionally, Global Forest Watch will almost certainly be valuable to those monitoring and responding to climate change. In addition to mapping deforestation—one of the leading contributors to climate change—the platform can also display some of global warming’s effects, such as the increasing frequency of forest fires.

Global Forest Watch will also augment its data with user-generated content, such as stories and photos, that will help hold companies and governments accountable for their forest management and conservation practices.

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