Recent statistics show that the time has come for us to begin to notice the impact of deforestation on our land.
Forests cover about 30% of the planet’s surface, but according to the WWF, we lose 18.7 million acres of forest a year, equivalent to 27 football fields every minute.
Deforestation is of particular concern in tropical rainforests as they are home to much of the planet’s biodiversity. The more we lose, the worse it will be for all of us.
Forests are being destroyed to make room for agricultural projects such as livestock, cocoa, coffee production and palm oil, which is used in many of the foods we consume.
It has become vital that we measure the rate of deforestation to ensure that we can track its progress, while local populations in countries such as Brazil and Indonesia are aware of changing landscapes.
At the CAN DO Innovation Summit 2022 (CDIS22) startups and SMEs meet with leaders to discuss the impact of large-scale deforestation projects and what this means for future food production and supply chains.
On the eve of CDIS22 DIGIT spoke with one such leader; Sarah Middlemis, CEO of Ecometrica, a company dedicated to data on sustainable development, about technological destroyers, geospatial technologies and changing the future of food.
CAN DO Innovation Summit
Middlemis has been working with Ecometrica since 2014 and heads the firm’s space research and innovation projects, which develop Earth observation and geospatial technologies.
“We have a set of software tools that help companies more reliably measure and monitor their impact on the environment,” she says.
“We use satellite data to provide climate indicators for specific locations, as well as to provide greenhouse gas emission reporting services,” she adds.
Ecometrica software allows companies to measure their emissions in a variety of operations, which can be hundreds of facilities around the world.
Once Ecometrica is located, satellite data is used to identify climate-related risks such as possible impacts of climate change, floods, droughts, fires, supply chain problems or deforestation.
The CDIS22 Middlemiss discusses this geospatial technology and how it helps map and deliver accurate, up-to-date deforestation data.
“This is an exciting group of different organizations looking at how different innovative technologies can support more sustainable food systems. Ecometrica focuses on monitoring sustainable supply chains, ”says Middlemis.
“At COP26 and over the last few years, some serious commitments have been made to stop deforestation in some supply chains of goods such as palm oil, soybeans, cocoa and beef.”
The geospatial project follows from her previous work under Middlemiss, conducted in Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Belize, Ghana and Kenya.
Forests 2020 has brought together the leaders of the UK’s forest monitoring sector to provide accurate data to governments, communities, agribusinesses and traders in these countries.
“We found out that we control 94 million hectares of forests,” Middlemis said.
“By the time the forest loss project was completed, more than a million hectares had been avoided; a forest area that could have been lost had it not been for targeted interventions ”.
She adds: “While satellite monitoring is not the only reason that forests have not been lost, they are an important contribution to better management of our natural resources.”
Promises on climate versus climate action
At COP26, $ 19.2 billion in the private and public sectors was allocated to forests and indigenous peoples to help combat deforestation and the climate crisis.
In addition, more than 100 world leaders have pledged to completely end and reverse deforestation by 2030 as part of the first major deal at the climate summit.
Following these promises, some progress has been made, Middlemis says, despite recent news that the UK government plans to approve six new oil and gas fields off our shores.
“I suspect the sequel will take some time, but we are seeing some positive changes. Of course, there was a lot of impetus in the business world before and immediately after the conference, and it was great, ”Middlemis said.
“An important consequence was the adoption of British environmental law. It’s essentially a rewriting of Britain’s environmental laws after leaving the EU, but a key component of that was the idea of a proper forest management system. “
Similar legislation is beginning to emerge from the EU and North America to put pressure on private companies to do more to combat climate change.
“It will be a small step for companies. There was a real emphasis on the importance of the private sector, – Middlemis continues.
“One of the big takeaways I got from COP26 was that it seemed to be the COP where the business came from. Five or six years ago, you would not have seen business leaders at such an event, but this year it was the place where everyone wanted to be. ”
Private firms around the world will play an important role in future climate policy and action.
“Companies or the private sector as a whole are much more agile than governments in terms of the speed with which they can act and have the finances to do so,” she says.
In Scotland, Middlemiss is seeing an increase in businesses that are actually buying land to rebuild it.
“Projects such as the voluntary carbon market and the carbon price will also play a huge role in reforestation and forest protection around the world,” she added.
Fix the problem before it got worse
The big question for Middlemiss and the entire planet: what will happen if we fail to fix these problems now?
“If we don’t, it’s the worst case scenario,” she said. The term “keeping alive 1.5” – about reducing global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees – was common in COP26 Middlemiss comments.
However, she adds that we need to do more – that just “keeping him alive” is not enough. “We are nearing a turning point – a point of no return.”
Deforestation is a major factor in this important global warming. Agricultural practices, such as animal husbandry, increase emissions of harmful carbon dioxide into the air.
However, Middlemis believes that there is a light at the end of the tunnel: “What gives me hope and optimism is what the right people notice; the financial sector is much more engaged than it was before, as is the business as a whole. If we are going to make changes, it seems that this is the right time to do so. “
She continues: “In Ghana, for example, we have a brilliant partnership with the Ghana Forestry Commission.”
Ecometrica together with a key consortium has set up a government-backed non-deforestation guarantee system, which means firms can be sure, according to official government data, whether they have deforestation in the supply chain or not.
Middlemis continues: “This means that the Forestry Commission can reinvest in its national mapping and monitoring initiatives to turn it into a cycle of self-sufficiency, rather than just waiting for the next ODA project or funding from abroad.”
Colombia also recently signed zero-deforestation agreements – a series of partnerships between government, private firms and producers to stop deforestation in supplies of goods such as palm oil, cocoa, beef, dairy and coffee.
This means that countries now have the capacity, data and tools to ensure that robust monitoring systems can be established and expanded in the long run.
Actions in the West
But it’s not just those parts of the world that have been directly affected by this deforestation that need to start getting involved.
“How to speed up companies to act, because in many ways they are in their hands. In many ways, this will come from policy and regulation, but consumer pressure is also key, ”says Middlemis.
“There is a growing base of consumers protesting and voting with their wallets and demanding more of the products they buy – whether they are Fairtrade certified or know that what they eat is not directly related to deforestation.
“We are making information and data as accessible as possible to help companies act against this pressure.”
Middlemis adds: “Companies are already dealing with huge amounts of data. They need information that is credible and reliable, but also easy to interpret and combine and compatible with other systems.
“The key factor in behavior change is that it becomes so ‘simple’ that companies have no excuse to no longer control their influence.”
CAN DO Innovation Summit 2022
For the third year in a row, the CAN DO Innovation Summit, to be held on 23 February, is the focal point for business innovation in Scotland.
CDIS22 will connect startups and SMEs with leading innovators, entrepreneurs and academics from around the world to explore new opportunities that combine purpose and profitability.
To learn more and register, visit the CDIS22 website.