Global Forest Watch uses Google's mapping power to fight deforestation

A major initiative has been launched this week under the banner Global Forest Watch, promising to use advanced satellite and analytics technology to lead a new crackdown on illegal deforestation.

The project, orchestrated by the World Resources Institute (WRI), Google and a group of 40 businesses and NGOs, aims to harness the latest satellite tracking technology and "open data" models to provide "near-real time" information on tree cover loss. The group hopes that providing free access to monthly tree cover loss data for the humid tropics at a resolution of 500 meters will allow regulators and NGOs to detect illegal logging.

"Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests — now, they have it," said Andrew Steer, president and chief executive of 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."

The WRI said the Global Forest Watch platform also would allow indigenous communities and NGOs to upload alerts and photos when encroachment occurs on their lands, providing further information on areas at risk of illegal logging. In addition, an alert service will aim to notify campaign groups and governments when and where illegal deforestation has taken place.

Administrator Rajiv Shah of the U.S. Agency for International Development praised the project as a prime example of how governments, businesses and civil society can work together to develop "the kinds of solutions we need to reduce forest loss, alleviate poverty and promote sustainable economic growth."

Rebecca Moore, engineering manager for Google Earth Outreach and Earth Engine, said the new project had been enabled in large part by technology donated by the IT giant. "Global Forest Watch is an ambitious vision, and yet it's both timely and achievable given WRI's knowledge of environmental science and policy, strong partnerships, and the high-performance Google cloud technology that we're donating to this initiative," she said.

Top image of the Global Forest Watch beta site