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How to safeguard and protect our global forest ecosystems?

Pierre-Adrien Hanania
8 December 2022

Key takeaways on how Data & AI can play a leading role to safeguard and protect our global forest ecosystems 

Land use – including deforestation, which releases heat-absorbing carbon into the atmosphere – accounts for 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land. In addition to playing a crucial role in carbon sequestration (essential in a warming environment), forests are home to earth’s most diverse species, and they provide a natural barrier between natural disasters and urban zones – all of which contribute to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (specifically, goals 3, 9, 14 and 15).  

As part of Capgemini’s support for AI For Good, we recently gathered a range of experts from forestry research programs, startups, and business project teams to discuss how best to observe, defend, and enhance the world’s forests. These leaders shared their insights and experience with diverse technologies, all with the same goal – ensuring that the forests remain for years to come.  

Here are three key takeaways from that conversation:  

New observational technologies are increasing our capacities –  

Using AI, the physical labor that goes into the tedious process of analyzing imagery for forestry insights can be reduced tremendously, while improving data precision and quality. In combination with pre-existing government data and in-situ data, forestry professionals now possess high-quality tree-maps, which can then be leveraged to determine the effects climate change has on sustainable land practices, support or improve species habitat, and provide a more sustainable harvest. “AI and satellites give us the scale to be able to apply skill sets that people weren’t applying to the climate before,” said Kait Creamer, marketing manager of Overstory, a company specializing in vegetation intelligence through the use of geo-satellite imagery.  

New observational capabilities are promising, but must be paired with defensive action:  

“We need to know the past in order to predict the future,” argued Ms. Jonckheere, Forest and Climate Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO). “And for this, machine learning and AI can really help.” Geo-satellite data can be used in combination with algorithms to predict the size, spread, and probability of a fire outbreak, protecting forests and also preventing the loss of life by inhabitants of rural areas.  

In addition to fire prevention insights, AI and data can easily identify which trees on the ground are affected by invasive species, for example, the spruce bark beetle in Sweden. These insights allow professionals to visualize and manage an infestation.  

Stéphane Mermoz, CEO and Research Scientist at GlobEO, a company that provides services based on Earth observation and remote sensing data, shared that another use case for predictive algorithms is illegal mining – data show that illicit mining operations on Indigenous lands and in other areas formally protected by law have hit a record high in the past few years1 – so we can use analysis through AI and machine learning to build correlations for predicting deforestation.   

Data analytics and AI are presenting key opportunities to defend the local ecosystems that are essential to life. “The forest is my backyard,” commented Alook Johnson, an indigenous trapper from Canada supported by the ShagowAskee Group. Whether we are far or near to the forest, citizens are all concerned with its health and conservation. AI techniques can also reimagine the place of trees in our lives – in a forest far from highly populated cities or merged directly into our urbanized areas to prevent urban heat islands.  

Policy and public sector coordination is key:  

“Policy is the thing which holds us all accountable,” Ms. Creamer remarked, “in a way that maybe an individual couldn’t.” Without both policy support and economic viability, many of the small businesses and innovators exploring these technologies will not be able to scale to the level that the current environmental crisis requires. Ms. Creamer remarked, “when we’re conscious of making policy that serves our communities and businesses – that has a climate in mind – there’s this inherent motivation to follow through.”  

According to Ms. Jonckheere, we have two things – global data, like the IPCC global report, that serve the needs of policymakers. The other is an action that needs to be encouraged on a national and local scale. Globally there is a UN forestry network and global goals, but then it’s up to different nations to come up with policies and measures and follow up with the implementation. Linking these two is crucial because these are global data products — which are very useful in the case that there is no national data that can be used by the national government or local end users. 

Data and AI are game-changing tools when supporting and counteracting the degradation of our world’s forests, but rather than relying upon the existence of new innovations, it is a commitment to action that will be decisive in this sphere.  

Watch the full replay on Youtube: 

AI for Good Webinar

How can AI help and protect and sustain global forest ecosystems?

Author

Pierre-Adrien Hanania

Global Offer Leader – Data & AI in Public Sector
As member of the Public Sector team of Capgemini, I provide strategy and technology consultancy services on different aspects of digital transformation. The scope of my work covers all segments, whether defense and security, welfare and tax, public admin and healthcare, building on a pluri-disciplinary vision and transversal levers to be activated across public services. At Capgemini, I lead the coordination of the European Public Sector, looking for ways to connect similar organizations across borders, in regards to their needs and digital journeys.