New tech, better map on tap to protect Indonesian forests

Open data as a means to empowering and building trust between different stakeholders.
Crystal Davis, Senior Manager, Global Forest Watch, World Resources Institute, speaking on a plenary discussion panel “Collaborative approaches to resolving sustainability challenges” during the Forests Asia Summit 2014 in the Shangri-La Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

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In Indonesia, a new tool that offers the best view yet of ongoing deforestation may soon be accompanied by a new map to translate that data to action.

Global Forest Watch (GFW), unveiled earlier this year, is an online platform that uses satellite imagery, open data and crowdsourcing, enables users to monitor forests and track deforestation anywhere in the world in near-real time. An initiative of the Washington, D.C.-based World Resources Institute, GFW addresses the widespread problem of inconsistent and unreliable data — a common source of conflict among stakeholders in land management — and makes accurate information available to governments, companies, NGOs and the public.

The platform was developed with the help of more than 40 partners and collaborators from the private sector, civil society and the government, GFW senior manager Crystal Davis said at the recent Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta.

But simply providing data “is not our end objective,” she said. “We see open data as a very important means to empowering and building trust between different stakeholders.”

Many Asian countries suffer from poor data management, poor data access and conflicting data sets, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); this can frustrate sustainable development efforts. Data and accurate information on events such as wildfires and the amount of carbon emissions they produce, for example, is critical for countries like Indonesia to meet its emissions-reduction targets via initiatives such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), experts have said.

Data is just one piece of the puzzle. While GFW enables users to see where forest loss has occurred, defined concession boundaries are of equal importance in ensuring accountability for illegal logging.

We’ve all learned that a good multi-stakeholder process — one that’s inclusive, that’s fairly negotiated, that’s iterative and adaptive, that’s based on transparent and equal access information — is something that requires a lot of patience

Crystal Davis

Enter the One Map Initiative — a proposed single, all-encompassing map of Indonesia that aims to contain all relevant information linked to forest licensing and land-use claims. Through this initiative, Indonesia is trying to reconcile multiple conflicting land-use maps — a common problem throughout Southeast Asia — that show numerous overlapping concession areas, many allotted to different companies for different purposes.

Like Global Forest Watch, the One Map Initiative benefits a wide range of stakeholders — but requires their collaboration to make it work.

Shinta Kamdani, vice chairwoman on environment and climate change at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN), said that her organization was now collaborating with Indonesia’s REDD+ agency to support the “One Map” initiative.

“We believe without one map, it’s very difficult for all the actors to play,” Kamdani said. She stressed the importance of providing certainty to investors to get them involved in REDD+ financing, a much-discussed topic at the Forests Asia Summit.

Kamdani said KADIN was encouraged by the establishment of Indonesia’s REDD+ agency this year, a major step toward completing the One Map initiative and toward stripping some of the uncertainty clouding REDD+ in Indonesia.

But helping to untangle Indonesia’s land-use and deforestation challenges will take more than maps — it will require continued dialogue among stakeholders across governments, civil society, communities and the private sector, participants at the Summit said. One of GFW’s aims, according to Davis, is to propel such discussion on how to define terms such as forests and deforestation with different stakeholders.

“I actually think there is a lot that can be learned through a very transparent process to compare different data sets and their underlying methodologies, to have an open dialogue about what you agree about and disagree about what these data sets are telling you,” she said.

“We’ve all learned that a good multi-stakeholder process — one that’s inclusive, that’s fairly negotiated, that’s iterative and adaptive, that’s based on transparent and equal access information — is something that requires a lot of patience. There are no shortcuts.”

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