Policy ForumForest Loss

Combating deforestation: From satellite to intervention

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Science  22 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6395, pp. 1303-1305
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat1203

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Tropical forests are critically important for human livelihoods, climate stability, and biodiversity conservation but remain threatened (1). Recent years have seen major strides in documenting historical and annual tropical forest loss with satellites (2). Now, a convergence of satellite technologies and analytical capabilities makes it increasingly possible to monitor deforestation in near real time, on the scale of days, weeks, or months, rather than years (3, 4). This advance creates greater potential for near–real-time action as well and could play a key role in achieving local, national, and international forest, biodiversity, and climate policy goals, as there is a global imperative to address deforestation. Challenges remain, however, to attaining effective policy action based on the new technology. On the basis of lessons learned from pioneering work in Brazil and Peru, we suggest at least two key factors for successfully linking the technical and policy realms. On the technical side, it is critical to capitalize on continually improving satellite technology to better detect, understand, and prioritize deforestation events. On the policy side, institution building, along with related civil-society engagement, is needed to facilitate effective action within complex government frameworks. We outline a five-step protocol for near–real-time tropical deforestation monitoring, with the goal of bridging the gap between technology and policy.