- Climate scientists and data engineers have created a new digital platform billed as the first global tool to accurately calculate the carbon stored in every tree on the planet.
- Based on two decades of research and development, the new platform by non-profit CTrees uses artificial intelligence-assisted satellite data sets to provide users with a real-time picture of forest carbon storage and emissions around the world.
- Forest conservation and restoration at the center of global climate mitigation efforts, CTrees is set to be officially launched at COP27 in November, with the overall aim of bringing unprecedented transparency and accountability to climate policy initiatives to offset carbon emissions based on forests. .
- Forestry experts widely welcome the new platform, but highlight the danger of evaluating forest restoration and conservation projects based solely on carbon output, which can sometimes be a red herring for truly sustainable and equitable forest management.
Users of a new digital platform from non-profit CTrees can track carbon stored and released in the world’s forests in real time. The platform is borne of two decades of research and development by a team of world-leading climate scientists and data engineers. It is said to be the first global system in history to calculate the amount of carbon in every tree on the planet.
Sassan Saatchi, a senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Mongabay that forests are important for preventing climate change because they absorb the majority of carbon in the atmosphere each year, in collaboration with colleagues in the United States, Brazil, Denmark and France.
However, trees are very effective at sequestering carbon dioxide, so when forests are felled, felled, or burned, they release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. According to recent studies, many forests are approaching the point where they lose their capacity to store carbon, parts of Southeast Asia and the Amazon are already net carbon emissions due to many human pressures.
Due to the high impact of carbon in the atmosphere, forest protection and restoration have become an integral part of climate change efforts, relying on forests to offset carbon emissions in efforts to prevent climate change. But until now, there is no international standard for measuring and tracking forest carbon that is consistent and transparent.
The new Citiris platform now fills this gap, Saatchi said. He said it was a “game changer” for the world’s governments, investors and organizations to make better science-based decisions. “The transition to carbon neutrality requires proper accounting,” he said. “To accurately assess the benefits of carbon reduction efforts, market and policy actors need a global state-of-the-art system for measurement and monitoring. Until now, this technology has not been available for carbon markets, and is only available to climate policymakers.”
The new forum will officially launch next November at COP27, where world leaders will gather in Egypt to discuss progress on national climate commitments. Knowing exactly how much carbon forests are emitting or sequestering will be key for decision makers involved in calculating their countries’ contributions at the national level under the Paris Agreement.
Saatchi said Citiris’ science-based approach provides a much-needed improvement to the current forest carbon accounting system, which relies on incomplete and inconsistent data at the national level. He said the new platform can bring unprecedented transparency and accountability to the platform by providing a highly accurate and up-to-date overview of the carbon implications of forest protection and restoration at the local, national and international levels.
In addition to policymakers and investors, the platform also provides environmental activists and rights groups with access to open source international and national-level data to help governments and organizations keep their commitments.
Fine precision and detail
It is estimated that there are 3 trillion trees of 60,000 species on our planet. So tracking the carbon flux of forests around the world is a big task, but Saatchi says new technology can handle it. “We had to take it in the old days [airborne] Draw pictures and then lines to identify and separate these individual trees. Now, we do it with cloud-based artificial intelligence and can process terabytes of data in hours.
Citris Forest Carbon Monitoring System It integrates carbon flux datasets from the early 2000s with artificial intelligence-assisted high-resolution satellite data from a variety of systems, including the Planet, providing data up to 3 by 3 meters (10 by 10 feet). ) resolution and other sources to 0.5 by 0.5 meters (1.6 by 1.6 feet) resolution.
“This brings us to the level of trees,” Saatchi said, allowing every tree outside of forest stands, such as in urban centers, to be included in carbon accounting – a practice that has been lacking until now. A good approach to carbon accounting allows estimating emissions and sinks not only at the national level, but also at individual regions, forest stands, farms and tree planting projects.
The platform can distinguish natural forests and commercial farms, the cutting cycle can be monitored. Such information is essential to assess which forestry investments are likely to have the greatest impact, he said.
Increasing responsibility for tree planting
Karen Hall, a restoration ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says tools for real-time and rigorous monitoring of tree cover are critical to ensuring that the world’s massive reforestation efforts are having the desired results. Because many organizations involved in planting saplings focus too much on the number of trees that go into the ground, they focus on the size of the tree instead of investing in making sure that the planted trees remain healthy and healthy in the future, he said.
“There are many examples of tree planting efforts that fail at first, and sometimes the same areas are planted year after year and trees are counted multiple times,” Hall told Mongabay in an email. “Monitoring in most of these reforestation projects is short-term (1-3 years) or non-existent. Also… young secondary forests are often cleared again within a decade or two.
Meredith Martin, an assistant professor of forestry at North Carolina State University, said the lack of monitoring is a concern. She and her colleagues recently found that less than a fifth of organizations engaged in tree planting in the tropics have monitoring programs, and still fewer measure tree survival or stored carbon.
Martin acknowledges that platforms like Citri are powerful tools for promoting transparency and accountability in the sector, but says that reducing reforestation efforts to only carbon sequestration reduces risks while ignoring other important factors.
“Carbon tells us nothing about biodiversity or actual forest resilience to climate change,” Martin told Mongabay in an email. It can be more useful than just focusing on. It followed shortly.”
Mark Ashton, professor of silviculture and forest ecology at Yale University, said that the problems of forest loss and degradation cannot be solved by technological solutions alone. “Real solutions for forest restoration and sustainable use are social, cultural and economic,” Ashton told Mongabay in an email. “Better forest management comes from focusing on solving the human problems of deforestation and forest degradation.”
Martin echoed Ashton’s call for human-centered solutions. “Ultimately, I think there needs to be more focus on listening to local communities and stakeholders to really support forest conservation in a sustainable way,” she said.
Flag Image: A map of carbon stored in forests globally in 2021. Image by CTrees
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Carolyn Cowan is a Mongabay staff writer.. Follow her on Twitter. @karolincowan11
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