By Crystal Davis

Global Forest Watch (GFW) held its inaugural Summit last week in Washington, DC. Nearly 400 people attended, traveling from over 30 countries like Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Indonesia, China, Cameroon and Kenya to participate.

The GFW Summit was an escalation of our traditional partnership meetings that began in 2014 with the launch of GFW. As GFW’s network of partners and users grew rapidly, we began to realize that this event could serve a larger purpose. What began as a small meeting of partners focused on a single initiative has transformed into a larger community of practice dedicated to monitoring forests to mobilize action in landscapes the world over. The GFW Summit connects this community, enabling both the creators and users of forest monitoring technologies to share knowledge, learn from each other’s experiences and collaborate. 

Before GFW came onto the scene, the process of making maps from satellite imagery was time consuming and costly—a skill practiced by a small group of experts. Now anyone can go online, see change happening in forests in their own backyard or even half a world away, and decide to do something about it.

Over the course of two days we saw the evidence of this transformation everywhere— from the powerful messages of our speakers, to the new ideas sparked at our Technology Fair and User Marketplace to the incredible enthusiasm present in every hallway conversation.

Opening Plenary Betty Rubio Padilla speaks about her community’s experiences using deforestation alerts to detect illegal activity on their land. Photo by Bill Dugan/WRI

At our opening plenary session, indigenous monitor Betty Rubio Padilla spoke about how her indigenous community in Peru has been monitoring their territory using maps and alerts from GFW. Despite limited connectivity, the monitors were able to detect illegal deforestation by coca growers and confront the culprits who then left the area. This kind of fast action wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago.

At the Technology Fair, Summit attendees presented the latest innovations in monitoring and remote sensing technology— a field that is progressing at a rapid pace. From radar data to detect deforestation through clouds, to overcoming longstanding technical challenges of monitoring forest restoration and regrowth, our users and partners are working at the cutting-edge of monitoring technology.

Throughout our various panels and sessions, we saw the impact that GFW has had not just in the NGO world but also in the private sector. Colin McKee from the Inter-American Development Bank said GFW Pro has formed the “glue” of their efforts to assess financial and deforestation risk. Before GFW, determining deforestation risk in their investments was a slow, manual process, but now they can quickly assess each investment and gain a deeper understanding of their financial risk.

What really made last week’s Summit so powerful was all the evidence of action. As one participant put it, “I had no idea how much amazing work is happening all around the world. This is not a conference about talking, this is a conference about doing.”

Participants left the Summit feeling inspired, with new ideas and new connections to amplify their impact. Together over the past five years we saw incredible progress, but there is more work yet to be done. GFW will continue to grow within and serve this incredible community.


BANNER PHOTO: Participants at GFW Summit explore the latest forest monitoring technology. Photo by Bill Dugan/WRI.