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Published: Monday March 3, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday March 3, 2014 MYT 7:31:05 AM

Fighting deforestation on-line

Google-backed database steps up fight on deforestation.              

GOOGLE, environmentalists and governments last week unveiled a state-of-the-art database to track deforestation, hoping to ramp up enforcement of a major culprit behind climate change.

The website, www.globalforestwatch.org, will show tree loss around the world in high resolution and with frequent updates. The data – aimed both at policy-makers and companies buying from forest areas – will be available for free and not require much technical skill to use.

The planet lost some 2.3 million sqkm of forest from 2000 to 2012, according to data by Google and the University of Maryland, despite what some environmentalists call good-faith efforts by nations such as Indonesia. That is equivalent to 50 football fields of forest lost every minute of every day for 12 years. The countries with the highest tree cover loss are: Russia, Brazil, Canada, United States, and Indonesia.

Changed landscape: Peatland forest being cleared for an oil palm plantation in East Kotawaringin district in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. - AFP
Changed landscape: Peatland forest being cleared for an oil palm plantation in East Kotawaringin district in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. – AFP

“The problem to date hasn’t been the lack of goodwill, or even the lack of nice forest regulations and laws written down. It has been, among other things, the lack of ability to really know what’s going on,” said Andrew Steer, chief executive of the World Resources Institute, a leader in creating the database.

“When the president of Indonesia passed good laws on forests, it was very difficult for him to know what was actually going on in real time,” Steer said.

The Global Forest Watch database will allow anyone to look on-line and verify the boundaries of protected forests, including buyers of palm oil who want to avoid illicit production, Steer said.

Deforestation plays a critical role in worsening climate change as forests – which cover nearly a third of the planet – act as a natural sink, trapping in carbon emissions that would otherwise head into the atmosphere.

To set up the database, Google got to work on uploading millions of satellite images that have been collected for more than 40 years by the US Geological Survey.

Rebecca Moore, an engineering manager at Google, said the Internet giant studied deforestation and found that the main challenge was “to manage the enormous scale of the data” to a level of detail that is useful. The company utilised its Google Cloud technology to bring “turbo-powered science” to the problem, she said. Besides Google, contributors to Global Forest Watch include the governments of Norway, Britain and the United States. – AFP

Tags / Keywords: Environment, Environment, ecowatch, forests


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