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Deforestation: getting to grips with the facts for better ESG

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When we were commissioned by Unearthed and The Guardian newspaper to look into Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) projects backed by major airlines, we covered seven countries and three continents. And it is this platform – the MIS Global Events Observer (GEO) – that will be able to deliver intelligence around Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) for large corporates in the future. 

MIS isn’t an investigation company per se, but we do have advanced capabilities to observe remote areas in very high detail – and we have the scientific depth to deliver analysis on the satellite and geospatial images we capture. This ability led to us being commissioned to uncover two things: had the REDD+ projects helped reduce deforestation? Had each projects’ proponents been justified in stating that their project area was at significant risk of deforestation in the first place?

In other words, quantify and map the annual totals and rates of forest cover and biomass carbon change for specific study areas in the chosen countries.

Estimating annual totals and rates of change in forest cover and biomass carbon was the challenge. It can be a costly, time consuming, labour and data intensive task, especially when coupled with high levels of cloud and smoke that plague multispectral satellite imagery of tropical rainforests.

To solve this, MIS analysts used a variety of datasets from providers like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA), and Global Forest Watch. Such datasets included annual land cover, tree cover loss, and carbon emissions from tree biomass loss, and single year biomass carbon density. Combined, these datasets allowed MIS to build a picture of the annual state of forest cover and biomass carbon stretching back 20 years for study areas in the seven countries. 

Furthermore, the use of multiple datasets allowed for the comparison and evaluation of identified trends at different scales. For added certainty, changes observed in these were verified against those observed in true-colour imagery.

In estimating the totals and rates of change in forest carbon biomass, MIS employed an adaptation of a commonly used technique for doing so using satellite-derived data.

To assess the efficacy of anti-deforestation policy in the study areas, adjacent unprotected areas were selected as a control, accounting for similarity in parameters including topography, land cover, and biomass.

Individual reports were created for delineating forest cover and biomass carbon changes in distinct study areas before integration into a comprehensive overall report.

The results of MIS’ detailed report were used by The Guardian to underpin an article investigating deforestation policy, and provided a clear outline of the methodology and datasets used and comparison of results observed at study areas around the globe. All possible issues with the data used were outlined and findings were compared to baselines and targets published by forest managers, where available. 

Using datasets from reputable sources, the analysis carried out by MIS is reproducible. The results presented were derived only from figures already present in the data. Through our partnership with a leading supplier of very-high-resolution satellite imagery, detailed current images of select hotspots of deforestation were also provided.

The coverage, both spatial and temporal, of these datasets and the rapidity at which they can be analysed mean similar studies can be carried out anywhere at speed. Other more bespoke in-house solutions can be developed, including image classification and differencing, with the output tailored to any requirement, and we’re very excited with the AI led technology we will be soon rolling out for a large agricultural corporation.

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