Recent statistics show that it’s about time we started taking notice of the impact deforestation is having on our earth.
Forests cover around 30% of the planet’s surface, but according to WWF, we are losing 18.7 million acres of forest per year, equivalent to 27 football fields every minute.
Deforestation is a particular concern in tropical rain forests as these 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 decimated to make room for agriculture projects such as cattle farming, cocoa, coffee production and palm oil, which is used in many of the products we consume.
It has become vital that we measure the rate of deforestation to ensure that we can track its progress, whilst keeping the local population in countries like Brazil and Indonesia up to date on the changing landscape.
At the CAN DO Innovation Summit 2022 (CDIS22), start-ups and SMEs are connecting with leaders to discuss the impact of major deforestation projects, as well as what this means for the future of food production and supply chains.
CAN DO Innovation Summit
Middlemiss has been working with Ecometrica since 2014 and heads up the firm’s space programme R&D and innovation projects developing earth observation and geospatial tech.
“We have a suite of software tools that help companies measure and monitor their environmental impact more robustly,” she says.
“We make use of satellite data to provide location-specific climate indicators as well as providing services around greenhouse gas emission reporting” she adds.
Ecometrica’s software allows companies to measure their emissions across operations, which could be hundreds of sites across the globe.
Once Ecometrica has the location, satellite data is used to identify climate-related risks, such as possible exposure to climate change, flooding, drought, fire, supply chain issues or deforestation.
At CDIS22, Middlemiss is discussing this geospatial technology and how it is helping to map and deliver accurate, up-to-date deforestation data.
“It’s an exciting panel from a range of organisations, looking at how different innovative tech can support more sustainable food systems. Ecometrica’s focus is monitoring sustainable supply chains,” Middlemiss says.
“There have been some punchy commitments made at COP26, and for the past few years, about ending deforestation in certain commodity supply chains such as palm oil, soy, cocoa, and beef.”
The geospatial project stems from her previous work led by Middlemiss carried out in Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Belize, Ghana, and Kenya.
Forests 2020 brought together leaders in the UK’s Forest monitoring sector to provide accurate data to governments, communities, agribusinesses, and traders within those countries.
“We worked out that we were monitoring 94 million hectares of forests,” Middlemiss comments.
“By the end of the project, there has been over a million hectares of avoided forest loss; forest area that might have been lost had it not been for targeted interventions.”
She adds: “While satellite monitoring isn’t the sole reason the forest has not been lost, it is an important input in better management of our natural resources.”
Climate pledges vs climate action
At COP26, $19.2 billion in private and public sector funds were committed to forests and Indigenous peoples to help combat deforestation and the climate crisis.
On top of this, more than 100 world leaders promised to end and reverse deforestation entirely by 2030 as part of the climate summit’s first major deal.
Since these pledges, some progress has been made, Middlemiss says, despite recent news that the UK Government plans to approve six new oil and gas fields off our shores.
“I suspect the follow-through will take a little while, but we’re seeing some positive changes. Certainly, on the run-up to conference and immediately after, there was a huge momentum in the business world around it, which was great,” Middlemiss comments.
“An important consequence has been the passing of the UK environment act. This is essentially a rewriting of the UK’s environment laws post leaving the EU, but a key component to this was this idea of a forest due diligence system.”
Similar legislation is starting to come out of the EU and North America to add pressure to private companies to do more to combat climate change.
“That is going to be a bit of a step change for companies. There has been a real emphasis on the importance of the private sector,” Middlemiss continues.
“One of the big takeaways that I had from COP26 was it seemed to be the COP where business turned up. Five or six years ago you would not have seen business leaders at an event like that, but this year, it was where everyone wanted to be.”
Private firms globally will have an important part to play in the future of climate policy and action.
“Companies, or the private sector generally, have much more agility than governments in terms of the pace at which they can act and have the finances to do it,” she says.
In Scotland, Middlemiss has seen a boost in businesses who effectively purchase land simply to restore it.
“Projects such as the voluntary carbon market and the price of carbon will also play a huge role in restoring and protecting forests globally,” she adds.
Fixing the problem before it gets worse
A big question for Middlemiss, and the planet, is what happens if we fail to commit to fixing these issues now?
“If we don’t then it is the worst-case scenario,” she says. The term ‘keep 1.5 alive’ – about bringing global heating down to a maximum of 1.5 degrees – was prevalent at COP26 Middlemiss comments.
However, she adds we must be doing more – that simply ‘keeping it alive’ is not enough. “We are near that tipping point – the point of no return.”
Deforestation is a big driver of that all-important global heating. Farming practices like livestock holding increase the release of harmful carbon dioxide into the air.
However, Middlemiss believes there is a light at the end of the tunnel: “What gives me hope and optimism is that the right people are taking notice; the finance sector is so much more engaged than it has been previously as is business generally. If we are going to make a change, it feels like the right time for it.”
She continues: “In Ghana, for example, we have a brilliant partnership with the Ghana Forestry Commission.”
Ecometrica, along with a key consortium, has set up a government-backed deforestation-free assurance system meaning firms can be assured, by official government data, whether they have deforestation in their supply chain or not.
Middlemiss continues: “This means that the Forestry Commission can reinvest into their national mapping and monitoring initiatives so it becomes a self-sustaining cycle rather than just waiting for the next ODA project or overseas funding to come along.”
Colombia has also recently signed zero-deforestation agreements – a series of partnerships between the government, private firms, and producers to end deforestation in the supply of commodities such as palm oil, cocoa, beef, dairy and coffee.
This means that the country now has the capacity, data, and tools to ensure that robust monitoring systems can be set up and scaled up in the long term.
Action in the West
But it is not just the parts of the world directly affected by this deforestation that must start getting involved.
“How do you accelerate companies to act because much of this is in their hands. A lot of this will come from policy and regulation, but consumer pressure is key as well,” Middlemiss says.
“There is a growing base of consumers who are protesting and voting with their purses and demanding more of the products that they’re buying- whether that’s having a Fairtrade certification or knowing that what they’re eating isn’t directly linked with deforestation.
“We’re making information and data as accessible as possible to help companies act on that pressure.”
Middlemiss adds: “Companies are already dealing with vast amounts of data. They need information that is trustworthy and robust, but also easy to interpret and ingest and interoperable into other systems.
“A key driver of changing behaviour is when it becomes so ‘simple’ that companies don’t have an excuse to not monitor their impact anymore.”
CAN DO Innovation Summit 2022
Now in its third year, the CAN DO Innovation Summit, taking place on the 23rd February, is a focal point for business innovation in Scotland.
CDIS22 will connect start-ups and SMEs with leading innovators, entrepreneurs, and academics from across the globe to explore new opportunities that marry purpose and profitability.
To find out more and sign up, please visit the CDIS22 website.