Forests—especially tropical forests—store great amounts of carbon and are habitat to many indigenous people. As these valuable forest areas disappear, they not only release carbon but also decrease biodiversity and threaten the livelihoods of indigenous and rural communities.
“Currently we are losing forest areas of one third of the size of Germany annually,” said Markus Repnik, Managing Director of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Among other drivers of deforestation, agricultural expansion and the work of logging activities have fueled rapid deforestation—but the exact contribution of these activities to overall carbon emissions and biodiversity loss have been a challenge for scientist and civil society organizations to quantify.
Nancy Harris, research manager, at Global Forest Watch presented their new interactive online monitoring platform for deforestation, which aims to provide accurate and timely information consolidated on one website.
The free platform, developed in partnership with the World Resource Institute, enables its user to create maps, compare regions, analyze trends, and download customized data. The data, which is provided by various partners, is meant for anyone interested in forest issues—NGOs, governments, journalists, the private sector, and the general public.
A bottom-up approach for data collection has been endorsed by Abdon Nababan, Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) and representative of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC).
Nababan believes in the empowerment of indigenous people to effectively monitor deforestation. “We need to put the people on the map,” said Nababan, introducing the forum participants to a successful monitoring project in Indonesia.
In Indonesia, 70 million Indigenous People are living on 84 million hectares of Indigenous territory that store 32.7 gigatons of carbon. Enabling the local communities to map forests and deforestation, Nababan argues, is a valuable resource and a great tool for inclusion of the Indigenous populations of Indonesia in monitoring and decision-making processes. Not using the knowledge of the indigenous people to increase the capacity to protect the forests would be foolish, said Nababan.
For Nababan, forest mapping and indigenous people belong together. In his project Nababan does not only put indigenous communities on the map for discussions on land rights, but also onto actual maps the size of a few square meters.
During workshops held in local communities, individuals can locate their communities and surrounding areas on the map. These maps provide accurate and timely information of forest states and on-going deforestation as well as on indigenous peoples settlements and their land rights. “Data on indigenous people in Indonesia is still greatly lacking,” explained Nababan.
In workshops, Indigenous communities learn about the REDD+ monitoring imitative and are introduced to GIS monitoring methods. With this capacity Indigenous communities are enabled to monitor and report on forest depletion in their surroundings.
With this crowd-sourced data collection method, the communities are able to map their territories and therefore document their land rights. Collected data can be directly reported to the Ancestral Domain Registration Agency, specifically founded for this purpose.
Recognizing territorial rights of Indigenous communities is essential to achieve ecosystem integrity, says Nababan. A community-based approach to crowd source land-use transformation data can greatly foster the integration of indigenous people and their land rights.
“Carbon storage cannot be separated from other natural services, such as water provision, and if we only left the water to the people, the forests weren’t [sic] burning now”, explained Nababan. “If we want to achieve the INDCs, we need to work more with community-based approaches and include the local communities.”