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Global Forest Watch website reveals disturbing deforestation in ‘near-real time’

The World Resources Institute (WRI), Google and more than 40 other partners launched the Global Forest Watch (GFW) website on Wednesday. GFW brings together the latest satellite technology, open data and crowdsourcing to produce “near-real time, reliable, and actionable data” about what is taking place in forests worldwide. According to the BBC News, the WRI spearheaded the development of GFW using millions of high-resolution photos from NASA’s Landsat program.

“Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests. Now, they have it,” posited Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO, WRI, in a statement. “Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests. From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship.”

Fires, clear-cutting for agriculture, ranching and development, unsustainable logging for timber, and deterioration due to climate change are all forms of deforestation, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Data from the University of Maryland and Google reveal that the world lost 2.3 million square kilometers of tree cover from 2000 to 2012 — this is the same as losing 50 soccer fields of forest every minute of every day for 12 years. Russia, Brazil, Canada, United States and Indonesia are the countries with the highest tree cover loss.

The GFW website is expected to have a multitude of uses. Financial institutions, for example, can better determine if the companies they invest in sufficiently evaluate forest-related risks. Purchasers of commodities like palm oil, soy and timber can better observe compliance with laws, sustainability commitments and standards. Plus, suppliers can conclusively show that their products are “deforestation free.”

The GFW website caters to more than just financial institutions, purchasers and suppliers. The website will also support indigenous communities, who can add alerts and photos when intrusion takes place on their lands. In addition, NGOs can determine deforestation hotspots, take action and collect evidence to hold government and companies accountable for their actions. Governments will be also able to use the GFW website to create more effective policies, reinforce forest laws, identify illegal forest clearing and meet conservation and climate goals.

What do you think of this new website? Will shining the spotlight on deforestation lead to any viable solutions for stemming the loss of forest cover worldwide?