By Sunny Lewis
ROME, Italy, March 8, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Reporting on the status and trends of the world’s forest resources just got easier with a new online tool linked to Google Earth Engine launched this week by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The platform enables countries to boost the efficiency of their reporting and improve the consistency, reliability and transparency of forest data.
The platform developed by FAO with financial support from the European Union and the Government of Finland was presented Monday at a special high-level ceremony in Toluca, Mexico.
In September 2015, 193 world governments made an ambitious commitment. They unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with their associated targets.
Target 15.2 of SDG 15, Life on Land, boldly calls for halting deforestation worldwide by 2020.
Two years later, governments approved another bold goal. The UN General Assembly adopted the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2017-2030, which calls for reversing the loss of forest cover and increasing forest area by three percent worldwide by 2030.
We know some progress toward reforestation is taking place. For instance, this week, China ordered 60,000 soldiers to pick up shovels and begin planting trees around Beijing. But how will we know whether or not these sworn goals are being achieved?
The new FAO online platform will allow efficient monitoring of and reporting on forest cover and land-use change to help governments monitor their progress towards these targets and is crucial as countries adopt measures to adapt to and mitigate climate change.
“Assessing the state of the world’s global forest resources requires consistent and reliable data,” said FAO Senior Forestry Officer Anssi Pekkarinen. “The new platform allows countries to improve their capacity to compile up-to-date and precise forest data, reduces reporting burden, and allows to better measure progress towards the 2030 Agenda.”
The new tool offers improved data entry and data visualization, plus review and analysis functions. A more user-friendly interface allows adding data, copying and pasting from existing entry sheets and documenting national data sources.
To help countries where forest information is limited or not available, the platform allows access to related external information as well as geospatial data from global remote sensing products.
The platform will be used for the next 2020 Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) report. The most comprehensive analysis of the world’s forest resources, the FRA is produced every five years through an inclusive and country-driven process.
For the first time, the new FAO platform will provide all 171 FRA National Correspondents – officially nominated national forest authorities who are responsible for compiling the country reports, and their collaborators – free access to vast global data repositories and analytical tools with the computing power of Google Earth Engine.
“This announcement builds on our productive three-year partnership with FAO that we signed at COP 21 in Paris,” said Rebecca Moore, director, Google Earth, Earth Engine & Earth Outreach. “We are excited to enable all countries with equal access to the latest technology in support of global climate action and sustainable development.”
Moore says the new tool makes it easy even for people without prior remote-sensing experience to access satellite imagery and other geospatial data to monitor national forest cover and land-use changes over time.
While global rates of deforestation have been cut in half over the last two decades – from a net annual forest area loss of 7.3 million hectares in 2000 to 3.3 million hectares in 2015 – deforestation and forest degradation still continue at alarming rates.
An estimated 80 percent of forest loss is driven by conversion of forest to agricultural land.
To explore ways of halting deforestation and accelerating the planting of new trees and forests, an international conference was held in at FAO headquarters in Rome in late February, with more than 300 stakeholders from many walks of life.
Organized by the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, participation at the conference, “From Aspiration to Action,” was by invitation only. Representatives of government ministries responsible for agriculture and livestock, environment, energy and extractive industries, the private sector and civil society organizations, especially of indigenous peoples, were invited.
“Over the past 25 years, the rate of net global deforestation slowed by more than 50 percent,” said Manoel Sobral Filho, director of the United Nations Forum on Forests, in his keynote address to the conference. “If the current trend of slowing forest loss, combined with forest restoration and plantation efforts continues, a future where we achieve zero net global deforestation can go from being an aspiration to reality.”
Participants stressed that land-use competition between forests and agriculture could be solved by introducing diversified agricultural production systems that integrate trees, crops and livestock with a landscape approach.
Examples include agroforestry systems in which harvestable trees or shrubs are grown among or around crops or silvo-pastoral systems, combining agriculture, forestry and grazing of domesticated animals.
The participants highlighted the need to underpin the stability of livelihoods and the role of forests as providers of ecosystem services by recognizing the many “hidden” values of forests, such as pollination, and by enhancing simple and direct systems of payments for ecosystem services.
In his address, Amedi Camara, minister of environment and sustainable development of Mauritania and president of the Council of Ministers of the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall, stressed the importance of the Great Green Wall initiative for combating desertification, sustainable management of natural resources and the fight against poverty and climate change.
The Great Green Wall is an African-led project that aims to grow a nearly 8,000 kilometer (5,000 mile) natural wonder of the world by planting trees across the entire width of Africa to hold back the spreading Sahara Desert. Once completed, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on Earth.
In the final outcome document, participants stressed that the corporate responsibility of agri-business plays a vital role in halting deforestation, which should be supported by international trade instruments favoring deforestation-free commodities.
Small producers would also need better access to services, finance and markets.
Conference participants noted that scaling-up finance and investment for sustainable land use and forests requires positive incentives, improved governance, public-private partnerships and innovative financing instruments.
The indispensable role of youth as agents of change was highlighted, and participants underlined the need to strengthen education at all levels as an essential component of building capacity to halt deforestation and increase forest area.
The outcomes of the conference will be channeled to the UN Forum on Forests taking place in May, and through it, to the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development that will review progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 15 – Life on Land in July.
Featured image: Cathedral Grove of old growth forest in British Columbia, Canada, August 2011 (Photo by Sang Trinh)