Blog / Max Wright / November 11, 2020
People need nature — and for over 30 years, Conservation International has worked to protect it. Through cutting-edge science, innovative policy and global reach, we empower people to protect the nature that we rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods. The challenge we and our partners face in achieving our mission is where on the planet are the most critical ecosystems to conserve and manage? What threats and challenges do these places experience, and how have these areas changed over time? Answering these questions on a global scale would be impossible without Earth observation technology, therefore partnering with the GEO community to explore these questions and supporting data is critical for effective nature conservation and resource management.
Earth observation technology is giving us an unprecedented view of the Earth systems, and advances in computation and machine learning are generating new insights to help solve the world’s most pressing problems, and to empower societies to sustainably care for nature that provide critical benefits to humanity. To unlock the full potential of these innovations, we need to foster inclusive partnerships to address global challenges. The work of the Group on Earth Observation (GEO), with support from Conservation International (CI), highlights how geospatial tools and technologies can be applied to empower the steward of our natural resources and track progress toward equitable and sustainable development. Here we highlight three programs enabled by CI and GEO engagement that connect Earth observation technologies with key actors who have substantial roles in advancing sustainable development at the global, national, and local levels.
Multilaterals and the United Nations
The Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) Initiative brings together data providers and data users to support global efforts to avoid, reduce, and reverse land degradation globally. The initiative directly supports the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) by providing countries the data, methods, and tools for monitoring and mitigating land degradation. As part of the initiative, a team of scientists at CI developed Trends.Earth, an innovative desktop and cloud-based system for monitoring land change and reporting commitments to the UNCCD. One of the most unique features of Trends.Earth is that it operates in QGIS and Google Earth Engine (GEE), which allows users to set parameters and produce maps in QGIS and analyze timeseries of Earth observation data in GEE. This hybrid approach, combined with globally consistent input datasets, allows users in any country to assess land degradation regardless of computation or data constraints, while still providing options to incorporate local data and preferences. Realizing ambitious global commitments requires understanding local context; tools like Trends.Earth provide countries and land managers the information to guide actions on the ground towards their ambitions.
The Earth Observation for Ecosystem Accounting (EO4EA) Initiative (Secretariat housed at CI) seeks to incorporate the value of nature into national decision-making. Ecosystem services are critical for food security, livelihoods, and human health; however, ecosystem services are often not included in conventional accounting systems that are used by decision-makers. Ecosystem accounting, developed by the United Nations Statistics Division as part of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA), provide guidelines and standards to value ecosystems and the services they provide to the economy using a holistic approach that is aligned with conventional economic statistics. First, the extent and condition of unique ecosystems are mapped, then the flow of ecosystem services are quantified, and finally, values are assigned to those services. A key characteristic of the ecosystem accounting approach is the reliance on spatial data to systematically assess ecosystems, such as that provided by Earth observations. The EO4EA Initiative brings together members from the Earth observation and ecosystem accounting communities to identify opportunities, address gaps and co-design the products and platforms needed to implement ecosystem accounting at scale.
The GEO Indigenous Alliance is an organized group of Indigenous peoples and those who work with them, including CI, committed to working in partnership with GEO to enhance the utility of Earth observations by incorporating Indigenous knowledge and practices. The strategic vision of the GEO Indigenous Alliance is to, “protect and sustain Indigenous Cultural Heritage utilizing and contributing to Global Earth Observation science, data and technology to create a knowledge base that will sustain the Earth we live upon”. The Alliance achieves this vision by utilizing GEO technologies as a tool for intergenerational transfer of knowledge, developing strategic partnerships, preparing the Indigenous GEO workforce for the future, enabling conservation and stewardship of Indigenous cultural heritage and advising the GEO community on how to engage with Indigenous communities. As a partner organization, CI seeks to empower Indigenous communities through the application of Earth observation tools and technology.
CI joined GEO as a participating organization in 2017. The strength of GEO has always been in translating Earth observations into actionable information for the benefit of society. CI has played an important role in advancing this mission through engagement with GEO flagships, initiatives, and communities to develop tools and partnerships that achieve impact at local, national, and international levels. Toward this end, CI is excited to continue working with the GEO community to leverage Earth observations and guide decision-making at multiple scales to benefit both nature and people.
About the author
Max Wright is the Director of Spatial Planning and Priority Setting in Moore Center for Science at Conservation International. His works focuses on landscape level planning and priority setting, including land-use and land-cover change analysis, spatial modeling, ecosystem accounting, and the use of earth observation technology. He is actively involved in GEO and leads the secretariat for the Earth Observation for Ecosystem Accounting Initiative. Max also supports a wide range of activities across Conservation International including natural capital accounting, natural climate solutions, and capacity building.
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