Spacing out: Data for informed deforestation strategies and policies

This article was written by a social reporter. It has not been edited by the Forum organisers or partners, and represents the opinion of the individual author only.
Photo: Kate Evans/CIFOR
Photo: Kate Evans/CIFOR

“It takes just one road to destroy a forest.” David Cooper, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Several multi-lateral agreements on climate change include the issue of deforestation as a critical component of strategies aimed at reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. The Strategic Plan for Aichi Biodiversity Targets Convention calls for halving the rate of deforestation by 2020. Target 15 of the SDGs calls for the restoration of at least 15% of all degraded ecosystems. Deforestation data and forest cover models will be crucial to effectively reduce deforestation; not only as part of achieving the SDGs, but also the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) submitted during COP21.

What type of data-driven models are the most effective in communicating research to policymakers— and to the general public? How can deforestation data and models best contribute to the monitoring and evaluation of initiatives aimed at reducing global deforestation rates? These questions became a recurrent theme at the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum and were addressed in depth at the session Modelling Uncertainty in Tropical Landscapes: Emerging Data and Models.

Opening the discussion, David Cooper from the Convention on Biological Diversity noted, “The role of good data and science is essential. These data must be put in the public domain in order to enforce plans, garner public support, and harness the political will that enables sound policies to be developed.”

Gilberto Camâra called for collaboration in the monitoring and implementation of Brazil’s deforestation reduction initiatives, particularly between the government and policy makers, the research community, and civil society. Nur Masripatin, Director General for Climate Change of Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, agreed, “Scientists, governments, NGOS are all important and we have to work together to address deforestation.”

National governments

Collaboration between national governments and the international science community was highlighted by the GLOBIOM: Global Biosphere Management Model, a project that examines deforestation rates in both the Congo Basin and the Amazonia of Brazil. Models produced by GLOBIOM contributed to Brazil’s INDC at the UNFCCC COP21 climate negotiations in Paris.

The Research Community

Bianca Hoersch of the European Space Agency (ESA) highlighted the need for observation data, satellite imagery, and spatial data to be freely available, as in her project Sentinal-2A. She described the Copernicus project as a “4 billion EURO contribution of EU taxpayers to environmental monitoring.”

The satellite produces spatial detail up to 10 meters altitude, covering 300 km in a single pass and repeats after 5 days to correct for cloud cover. “Landscapes are changing rapidly. The satellite allows data to be collected to capture changes in a timely way,” added Hoersch. Efforts such as the ESA’s Copernicus project are designed to make spatial data available to the public are an example of how linkages between civil society and scientists can be made.

Civil Society

Gilberto Camâra stressed the importance that local stakeholder monitor landscapes in Brazil. “We have to remember that the Amazon is bigger than Europe. Deforestation is difficult to control and requires a huge amount of effort on monitoring.”

Access to road data was highlighted as a key concern in terms of impact from deforestation. A staggering 25 million km of new roads are expected to be constructed by 2050, primarily in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Efforts to utilize currently available data and to integrate research capacities for the purpose of better road planning has resulted in the development of, which provides high-resolution regional maps and composite maps of estimated environmental impact and likely socio-economic benefits incurred through the construction of roads.

“There is enormous variation when we look at relative benefits and conservation values. Road data is crucial for development in tropical areas and is absolutely fundamental to everything we do,” said William Laurance, Director of the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science at James Cook University.

Laurance described initiatives combining remote sensing and crowd-sourced data on roads, such as the EU Initiative Roadless Forest Initiative, as game-changers on how data can be captured for scientific research.

“New datasets and models are constantly being developed and are able to inform policies that take into consideration local conditions,” added Kriton Arsenis.

David Cooper made the connection to COP21: “If you look at the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios, 4 RCP scenarios IPCC report, only one of them keeps the temperature within 2 degrees. In that scenario, we see forestry decreasing,” he said. “We cannot take it for granted that forests will take a big role, we have to make it happen.”

Michelle DeFreese is a Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellow based at the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI) in Tanzania.

Background reading:

Roadmaps for northern South America and Sub-Saharan Africa

Summary for Policymakers. Emissions Scenarios. A Special Report of IPCC Working Group III. Published for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2000.