How surveillance tech will help forest managers and buyers of carbon offsets

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

Watching news reports of the catastrophic flooding seen across parts of western Europe in recent days is yet another visual wake-up call to the growing risks concerning climate change.

Sceptics argue that extreme weather is nothing new, so we should not worry about it and just chalk it up to another incident. Keep calm and carry on, as they say. However, there is mounting data-driven evidence indicating that we should not keep calm. Quite the opposite, in fact.

For me, if we are to convince sceptics to change their minds, not to mention make the right decisions, we need access to much stronger climate-related data across the board. Economic, meteorological, carbon, biodiversity, forestry, pollution. It’s a long list. Without robust data that we can assess for relevance and impact, we’re all just throwing money and time into the wind and, more often than we should, simply hoping for the best.

I want to see the data, and lots of it. Prove it to me. Show me something is working. Or not working. Show me how a change in approach could measurably improve a situation. Based on the data, the evidence, we can then act. Watching the data closely, pivoting if needed. If a decision turns out to be the wrong one, change it, and change it quickly. Time is not on our side.

Putting surveillance data tech to work for good

We live in the digital age. Businesses collect an extortionate amount of data every day on everything we say and do. Rather than collecting data to “influence” our behaviour (that’s a different article), I’m more interested in putting this digital surveillance technology to work for the greater good. Where data collected is transparent, ethically sourced, and applied to tackling global issues we all face and need to solve.

Turning to forests, in my view, the data surveillance practices used by “big tech” need to be deployed to transform and improve integrity in the voluntary carbon markets. Trustworthy, reliable, transparent forest data, is something the sector suffers from enormously. As a consequence, there is much confusion and mistrust.

Proving impact of forest investments

Most people do not understand forests in general. With this in mind, if you are a corporate and you decide to invest in forest-backed carbon offsets as part of your Net Zero strategy, how can you be sure your money is being used in the right way? Where is your evidence? Your data? And how reliable is your data? Do you trust it? Are the forest managers making the right decisions for the forest you are supporting? How do you know they are? Because they said they are? Or did they show you the data?

I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment by Dr. Suzanne Simard, Professor of Forest Ecology in the University of British Colombia’s Faculty of Forestry in Canada. Born and raised in the Monashee Mountains, she explains in extraordinary detail the relationship between all the biodiversity within a forest. Describing it rather beautifully as a “wood wide web” interconnected by a complex network of fungi which allows for natural communication amongst the trees and plants.

I won’t delve into the minutiae details of how plants support each other, often without needing human interference. You can read her book if curious. But one of the clear cut conclusions one can reach fairly swiftly without needing to be a forestry expert is that every forest is different with distinctive needs.

Different types of trees absorb different levels of carbon too. Just because a tree is a massive carbon guzzler, that does not automatically mean it “needs” to be part of a forest ecosystem, nor should be. It could possibly do more damage than good. Some forests will absorb more carbon than others because of their individual ecosystem. These are things that the average person, me included, struggle to understand.

Access to better and more varied scientific data on a forest’s health is absolutely vital to a forest manager. Even those with generations of experience behind them, like Dr Simard and her family. Data allows forest managers and owners to unlock the mysteries of what their forest needs. Giving them the knowledge to help create the healthiest ecosystems possible to sustain life. In the best interests of that individual forest.

As well as maximise carbon absorption to help with the broader reduction of global climate emissions.

Plus, where applicable, create much needed jobs for the forest-dwelling communities which live there.

This data can then be utilised to prove the effectiveness of the forest strategies which underpin a carbon offset, should a forest owner seek capital from the private market to fund their forest preservation and restoration strategies. Data which would give investors utmost confidence that their money is genuinely helping to reverse climate change and making a direct positive difference to the forest they have invested in.

Without data, we simply cannot be confident our actions, financial or physical, are making a difference.

That’s the harsh reality.

Surveillance technology exists.

It’s time to deploy it and welcome the future of forestry.

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Louisa Bartoszek

Co-Founder and Chief Business Officer of Treehouse. A London-based ESG-focused fintech. Trying to reverse climate change. One tree at a time 🌳