Satellites can bring new transparency to how forests are being managed. With the increasing production of pulp, paper and timber products, there is concern over the effect that expanding plantations and logging in natural forests have on biodiversity and climate change.
At the recent general assembly of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, an ESA project team joined some 400 stakeholders to discuss how Earth observation services can be integrated into the FSC certification scheme for responsible forestry.
FSC is an international association of forest owners, timber industries, social groups and environmental organisations that promotes responsible forest management. Only products that adhere to its strict environmental and social criteria are certified to carry the widely used FSC label.
Criteria include appropriate monitoring to assess the condition of the forest, maintenance of the ecological integrity of the forest and respect of indigenous peoples' rights.
Over the last five years, ESA has been collaborating with the FSC to demonstrate how satellites can improve the quality of monitoring in forest management and increase public accountability of certification.
Looking back on this collaboration, FSC Executive Director Andre de Freitas said, “This technology has the unique capability to increase transparency and efficiency in forest certification.”
At the meeting in Malaysia, three Earth observation service trials designed for the needs of FSC certificate holders, certification bodies and the FSC itself were presented.
They demonstrated the mapping of forest areas, protected areas, buffer zones, roads and settlements, as well as the monitoring of forest cuts and regeneration.
The satellite maps demonstrated the value of the approach in three different forest operations: large temperate forest plantations in South Africa, boreal natural mega forestry concessions in Russia and smallholder temperate forestry in Sweden.
In addition, the Forest Management Toolkit software was developed to facilitate the integration of satellite data and existing forest management information to monitor area changes over time and assist in the certification processes. This Toolkit can be freely used by all stakeholders in the certification processes.
“Earth observation has the potential to increase the quality of the FSC certification, to reduce the costs of certification and can deliver additional benefits,” said Hans Joachim Droste, FSC Director for Standards and Policy.
“Due to the results of the project we want to further develop this technology within the FSC system.”
The collaboration between ESA and FSC to integrate Earth observation into the forest certification process corresponds with 2011 as the International Year of Forests declared by the UN.
Andre de Freitas, FSC Executive Director, concluded at the FSC General Assembly in Malaysia by saying, “FSC needs to be a leader in this area, not a follower.”