How to save rainforests with satellites? Highlights of the NICFI Satellite Data Program

March 21, 20221h7tj

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16. March 2022

Today, on the International Day of Forests, the NICFI is pleased to announce that NICFI’s Satellite Data Program is extended for one more year, until September 2023. Since the launch of the program in 2020, actors across the globe have made use of free, high-resolution imagery of the tropics. In this newsletter, we are excited to share some key impacts of the program.

The NICFI satellite data program covers all the main forest regions of the world
The NICFI Satellite Data Program covers all the main forest regions of the world. Launched in 2020, the program has now been extended until September 2023. Photo: KSAT.

Tropical forest loss is a major cause of climate change. Improved monitoring of tropical forests is crucial to launch effective strategies for forest protection. This is why Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) decided to grant free access to high-resolution satellite images of the tropics to anyone, anywhere, to monitor tropical deforestation.

In September 2020 NICFI entered into a contract worth up to NOK 400 million (approx. USD 43 million) with Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) and its partners Airbus and Planet to provide universal access to such images. The NICFI Satellite Data Program has thus far registered over 11,000 users from 145 countries around the world. And many more are accessing the data through the Global Forest Watch platform.

The NICFI Satellite Data Program covers all the main forest regions of the world. User are registered in Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Colombia, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Laos, Mekong Region, Mexico, Mozambique, Nepal, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Senegal and Vietnam

As the map below shows, the majority of images are streamed in key tropical forest countries like Brazil, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A main objective of the program is to assist these and other countries in detecting and responding to drivers of deforestation.

Photo: KSAT
Number of image tiles streamed by country. Photo: KSAT. 

Unlocking satellite imagery to reduce deforestation

Satellite data can be a key tool in the fight against tropical deforestation but demands high technical skills and powerful computer processing. Therefore, as part of the satellite data program, Norway has committed up to USD 10 million (NOK 90 mill.) to a project managed by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) aiming to let more people make use of satellite imagery to combat tropical forest loss.

The project, called SEPAL, covers the years 2022 to 2025, and seeks to aid tropical forest countries and their ability to plan and implement sustainable land use policies. To do this, the project provides data and methods that meet critical forest and land monitoring needs.

[dss-hidden] NICFI supports SEPAL, a platform helping users make the most of complex satellite data. The screenshot shows 4 different analyses of a site from the Brazilian Amazon. Photo: FAO.
NICFI supports SEPAL, a platform helping users make the most of complex satellite data. The screenshot shows 4 different analyses of a site from the Brazilian Amazon. Photo: FAO.

User story: Central African Forest Initiative

The Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) is a partnership between eight donors and six partner countries, including the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Republic of Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Gabon.

CAFI uses the satellite data to validate and classify drivers of deforestation and degradation to protect the Central African forest. According to Remi D’Annunzio, FAO’s REDD+ National Forest Monitoring Coordinator for Africa, “Anywhere in the Central African forest where degradation is happening, we were missing a substantial amount of even easy to detect degradation with anything else other than the Planet-NICFI data.”

In partnership with UN Food and Agriculture Organization, CAFI is hosting regular workshops with technical practitioners from the six member countries and beyond, to support their work with the satellite data to track and classify drivers of deforestation and forest degradation over time.

The world’s second largest rainforest, the Congo Basin rainforest, is home to a vast number of species, including the mountain gorilla. Satellite data helps CAFI – the Central African Forest Initiative – and partners detect threats to these forests and its inhabitants. Photo: John Martin.

User story: Brazil

The Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) is putting the satellite data work to monitor and report on native vegetation that could be legally deforested, but that farmers chose not to when participating in the CONSERV program – a private, voluntary mechanism that provides incentive payments to rural producers that voluntarily conserve more native vegetation than required by law. The high-resolution of the data is helping improve their deforestation, degradation, and fire detection algorithms that are critical to this work, with recent improvements being especially useful for capturing early patterns of degradation at a fine scale.

User story: Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is working to achieve reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation as pledged in its Paris Agreement commitments. The country has entered into an agreement with the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) to receive performance-based payments for these emission reductions, including from Norway. A key condition for such payments is that the uncertainty of emission estimates connected to forest degradation is reduced. The use of the satellite data program is instrumental in this work.

Satellite imagery contributes to more accurate monitoring of forest loss, helping the Lao PDR improve land use, strengthen forest protection, and enhance forest restoration. Photo: Terry Sunderland/CIFOR.
Satellite imagery contributes to more accurate monitoring of forest loss, helping  Lao PDR improve land use, strengthen forest protection, and enhance forest restoration. Photo: Terry Sunderland/CIFOR.

User story: Colombia


Colombia houses the third largest forest area in South America. The country has ambitious targets for reduced forest loss, and is a close partner of Norway alongside Germany and the United Kingdom. For Colombia to succeed, a solid system for forest monitoring is essential.

Colombia’s Institute for Meteorology, Hydrology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) uses the satellite data to reduce uncertainty in their estimates of forest area change and carbon. They also expect to utilize the data in early- warning systems to address deforestation, and predict that the data will contribute to better enforcement of Colombia’s zero-deforestation laws.

According to Yolanda Gonzales, Director of IDEAM, the use of satellite data helps monitor forests, detect changes at an early stage and respond quickly to illegal logging, forest fires and other threats. Photo: IDEAM
According to Yolanda Gonzales, Director of IDEAM, the use of satellite data helps monitor forests, detect changes at an early stage and respond quickly to illegal logging, forest fires and other threats. Photo: IDEAM

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