GFW News Roundup: Forest stories from around the world that demonstrate the power of spatial analysis and open data in improving management of forest landscapes

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Top Reads of the Week

Forest clearance has immediate, direct effect on climate. A new report in Nature Climate Change ties forest clearance to immediate changes in climate, raising concern that rampant deforestation in the world’s remaining tropical forests could have wide-reaching ramifications for agriculture and water supply. These climatic effects, separate from those caused by the CO2 released from clearing trees, range from rainfall variability to temperature changes on a local, regional and global scale. The study predicts that if deforestation continues in the Amazon at its current rate, regional soy production could fall by 25% (via the Washington Post)

Mongabay’s year in review. The environmental news site breaks down the most important forest and wildlife stories from 2014. From the wave of zero-deforestation commitments that swept across the palm oil world, to the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, to the murder of indigenous activists in Peru, this year has seen both progress and disappointment. Full disclosure: the launch of Global Forest Watch made the top ten. (via Mongabay)

Land tenure and indigenous rights

Indigenous groups key to preserving forests. A new report from the Forest Peoples Programme finds that indigenous groups are some of the best protectors of natural forests in Peru. They estimate that legally recognized indigenous lands have deforestation rates 20% lower than the Peruvian Amazon at large and 95% lower than privately held land. Yet conflict with mining, timber extraction and palm oil concessions threaten the forests and the indigenous communities who inhabit them. Rolling Stone dives deeper into these threats, describing the early December murder of rights campaigner José Isidro Tendetza Antún as “grimly familiar to indigenous activists.” For a broader view of the complex political economy involved in Peru’s land management, check out this interactive infographic from Forests Climate Change. (via Mongabay)

Industry and forests

Pushing agriculture into degraded lands. Agriculture expansion often happens at the expense of carbon-dense forests, contributing to climate change and threatening biodiversity. However, researchers have now identified 125 million hectares of degraded land that can possibly be used for agriculture without the need for deforestation. Their model excludes areas with high endemism, protected areas, “rare habits” and steep slopes to prevent the conversion of areas that are low in carbon but have other ecosystem value. (via Mongabay)

A data revolution for transparency. We’re in a new era of corporate transparency, reports the Economist. Corporations are releasing unprecedented amounts of data about their financial and sustainability activities, with global standards (such as the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative) emerging to manage the reporting.  Yet on the other hand, companies are facing “data fatigue” as they struggle to respond to demand for data points. Companies and civil society organizations will need to work together (as they are starting to with palm oil) for more effective and far-reaching transparency. (via The Economist)

Remote sensing for the environment

Visualizing carbon dioxide emissions.  New global carbon dioxide maps show, for the first time, where this gas is emitted and absorbed across the planet. The maps from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2), a satellite launched in July, show especially high levels of carbon dioxide across South America and Southern Africa (reportedly due to biomass burning), as well as China and the eastern United States (due to industrial processes). (via the BBC)

The Amazon or La Seine? Taller than the Eiffel Tower when complete, a new climate monitoring tower under construction in the Brazilian Amazon will provide new data on carbon emissions and the movement of air masses. The tower will stand 325 meters tall when it is complete in June 2015.

New mapping technique for dry forests. Researchers used a new mapping technique to better understand the distribution of dry tropical forests in Southeast Asia and suggest that their method can be scaled up for other regions.  Using remote sensing data from MODIS, they separated Dry Deciduous Dipterocarp forests (DDFs) from other forests, determined the amount of forest per pixel, and created a model that predicts forest types on a regional scale. The researchers hope that these maps can better inform conservation policies and planning for DDFs.  (via Mongabay)