In a recent session at the GLF Amazonía: The Tipping Point, SERVIR-Amazonia and partners explored how advancements in geospatial and Earth Observation technology are enhancing forest monitoring, disaster forecasting and evidence-based decision-making in the Amazon under a changing climate. Drawing on innovations in remote sensing and satellite imagery, panelists discussed pathways toward effectively connecting “Space to Village,” scaling public and private investments to improve internet connectivity in isolated areas and strengthening locally-led efforts to protect biodiversity and Indigenous peoples’ territories with geospatial technology.
Earth Observations and geospatial decision-support systems play an increasingly critical role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change. These systems can provide solutions to development problems in the Amazon as they bring together remote communities and marginalized groups with data and information providers in governments, the private sector and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
However, serious challenges remain to effectively reach our goal of connecting Space to Village and scale up these innovations, such as the effectiveness of geospatial data and information value chains, and the capacity of national and sub-national actors in understanding, contributing to, and using the latest technologies. Internet access is often limited in isolated or rural communities.
Box 1: About SERVIR-Amazonia
Operating as a regional hub, SERVIR-Amazonia promotes collaboration among governments, universities, nongovernmental organizations, community groups and scientists. The ultimate goal is to improve local capacity to harness satellite data and geospatial information to foster sustainable natural resource management throughout the Amazon Basin.
A first discussion entitled “From Space to Village” was moderated by María Elena Gutierrez, director of the Peruvian NGO ACCA. It explored how innovations in Earth Observations (remote sensing and satellite imagery) are enhancing forest monitoring, disaster forecasting and the protection of the biodiversity of the Amazon.
“These innovations can protect the Amazon from climate stresses and shocks, and play a role in climate change adaptation,” said Eric Anderson, associate chief scientist and disasters theme lead at the SERVIR Science Coordination Office of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Innovations are notable in the monitoring capacities of satellites, like Landsat, with free and open data that span over 40 years (Landsat 9 has just been launched). This positively affects our ability to forecast climate events and enter areas such as climate risk financing, where satellites and geospatial technologies are supporting to mitigate impacts of drought, floods, fires and other perils. In fact, new index insurance products at micro and macro scales can lower the barrier for smallholder farmers and remote communities to access affordable insurance.
Gavin Schmidt, NASA senior climate advisor and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, touched upon the opportunities and challenges that open and free data provide in his welcoming address. For him, the quality and breadth of data that NASA is bringing to the discussions on climate change can help us see what happens in the Amazon where unique pressures are threatening a unique environment. “However, all this data is not as easily accessible as it should be. There are too many data streams that are too often not integrated and not comparable with key socioeconomic measures,” Schmidt said.
The question of the sustainability of geospatial innovations was raised and David Saah, managing principal at SIG, professor and director of the Geospatial Analysis Lab at the University of San Francisco, indicated that organizations can benefit from geospatial technologies over a long term in multiple ways: When large state agencies open their infrastructure, industries will grow around it and assure a longer-term offer. However, organizations must improve their operations with better information, and that is what SERVIR-Amazonia tries to achieve. Finally, organizations should communicate successes to exemplify the benefits.
Solutions from space that reach the village
The GLF audience heard from two more panelists: Mónica Romo, who is a regional Amazon environment specialist at USAID/South American Region, and Julio Cusurichi, the president of FENAMAD in Peru.
Both touched on the use of geospatial technology for and by communities. For Monica Romo, the existence of geospatial information platforms has helped in working with Amazon communities that sometimes have already taken the initiative to create their own information systems and taken leadership in monitoring their territories. However, education levels in science and technology are still very low, for example, in the Peruvian Amazon, where the 12-year-olds are very interested in technologies but only around 3% have the basic knowledge to use them. For an organization like FENAMAD, the use of geospatial information is very important. However, “In order to use it at its full potential, monitor our territories and strengthen our communities, we need training, equipment and infrastructures,” Cusurichi said.
In this regard, Luis Felipe Duchicela, senior advisor for Indigenous peoples’ issues at USAID, emphasized that while Indigenous peoples are taking a lead role to conserve critical ecosystems that are under climate pressure, national governments must accept their rights, culture and cosmovision, and support them in strengthening their governance structure and improving their economies.
Governments engage increasingly in monitoring efforts at national and subnational scales, and examples like FENAMAD show how communities strengthen their capacities to monitor their local territories independently. Experiences demonstrate that local monitoring is complementary as it provides more granular data and helps communities improve the management of local efforts. State-sponsored monitoring, when it exists, sets a baseline, but it is also subject to political influence and budgetary issues. Independent monitoring is key for accountability and providing checks on these issues. Examples show how collective efforts with open-source data and code (e.g., MapBiomas) produce quality data that governments have been using in their own monitoring efforts. However, comparability and interoperability are issues between different monitoring systems that limit usefulness.
Box 2: Examples of geospatial services developed under SERVIR-Amazonia
Ecuador´s greenhouse gas inventory now has greater precision and accuracy in its emissions estimates and its documentation of conservation practices, which will move the country closer to receiving payments for results.
The near real-time information on deforestation and mining activity in the southern Peruvian Amazon, allows authorities to quickly identify possible new illegal mining fronts and to better understand how legal mining impacts the forest.
The application provides a tool for community-based initiatives in the Brazilian Amazon to improve the monitoring and protection of their forests.
Support decision-makers with climate change science and evidence for impact
The decision-making aspects of geospatial technologies in the context of climate change were the focus of a second roundtable moderated by Marina Piatto, executive director at Imaflora in Brazil.
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of Climate and Energy Global Practice WWF and former minister of Environment of Peru, mentions the example of Peru and insisted on the need to address the source at the domestic level. For Pulgar-Vidal, international decisions are not enough and technology can help each country fulfill its tasks, achieve its targets and help decision-makers fulfill their obligations. To do so, said Marcela Quintero, director of the Multifunctional Landscape Research Area at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, scientists must make an effort to understand and meet the needs and objectives of governments and local stakeholders. “In our work we have to identify bottlenecks and help stakeholders find solutions for concrete actions by providing evidence that helps remove those bottlenecks,” Quintero said.
For Marion Adeney, a program officer at the Moore Foundation with 20 years of experience working for the Amazon, visualizing geospatial information and translating it for decision-makers can be very powerful. But challenges remain to reach the necessary impact. One is that we still should increase ownership and empowerment of agents. “We need to design tools in collaboration with end-users and with impact in mind, she says — integrating across systems, stakeholders, and scales to make information actionable for communities and decision-makers. And we need to think about how to measure the impact from the outset.”
The SERVIR-Amazonia session at GLF Amazonía: The Tipping Point was part of a program effort to convey the opportunity to decision- and policymakers to consider the evidence that geospatial science and technology can provide and the need to channel resources to regional, national and subnational agencies so that they can increase the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of environmental decision-support systems.
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