How Rapid Response is turning the deforestation tide
Data used in Rapid Response
The Mighty Earth Rapid Response system stops deforestation because it joins the dots. It joins the dots between forest lost on the ground, links it to suppliers and buyers, files grievances, and tracks whether they are addressed. In just 18 months, Rapid Response has identified more than 50 companies responsible for engaging in deforestation and peatland destruction in Indonesia and Sarawak, Malaysia; the top ten companies alone are responsible for destroying a combined 74,000 acres of forests and peatlands.
The results have lead to deforestation moratoriums and strengthened policies being enacted by some of the biggest palm oil companies in the world. In this post, I give an overview of how it works, it strengths, limits, and how we plan to make it even better.
What is the Rapid Response System?
Example of just how much forest was lost inside one palm oil concession flagged by Rapid Response
Rapid Response identifies and documents emerging and ongoing cases of companies engaged in palm oil related deforestation, starting at the concession or ‘farm’ level. Functioning like an supply chain, it takes raw materials - in our case data (e.g., concession boundaries, GLAD alerts, satellite imagery )- refines, packages, and distributes it as reports to palm oil traders and buyers.
Monthly reports are shared with the companies that control the majority of the global trade in palm oil. These companies are expected to intervene with those suppliers involved in deforestation to stop it.Rapid Response functions at scale.
It monitors over 3,500+ oil palm concessions in Indonesia and Malaysia or 21 million ha - a bit bigger than Wales and a little smaller than Vermont.
Step 1 - Automated Analysis
Example of alerts
MapHubs’ tools calculates deforestation alert totals for the last month for thousands of oil palm concessions. The tool automatically filters the data and generates maps for the largest alert areas. Our tool uses land cover data from the Indonesia Ministry of Forestry and Environment to filter out alerts occurring over plantation areas (e.g., old plantations being cleared). An analyst reviews the results selecting the top alerts for the month.
Step 2 - Deforestation Verification
Before and after shots of Forest Loss verified using Planet
MapHubs also pulls before and after scenes from Planet - a satellite imagery provider. Analysts further review this imagery to verify that the alert is new forest or peatland clearance. The analyst then calculates the total area and produces images of the verified amounts and dates for the report.
Step 3 - Supply Chain Research
Example supply chain data
Experts from Mighty Earth and Aid Environment compile supply chain information based on known ownership links and public palm mill supply chain data disclosed by traders and consumer brands.
To assist with this, MapHubs has built a palm mill search tool, a Google-like search index of all the text in public disclosure lists, that allows researchers to instantly search over 70,000 records from over 100 mill lists, sort/filter based on group and parent company and download the results as an Excel table.
Step 4 - Publish Reports and Contact Traders
Mighty Earth publishes a monthly report featuring maps showing before and after imagery of concessions, forest and peatland loss statistics, and supply chain information. Traders are provided with copies of the report for comment and are given an opportunity to respond.
Step 5 - Track Grievances
Grievances publicly tracked on the Mighty Earth website
Grievances are tracked on a public table available though Mighty’s website, showing the number of grievances and the actions taken by companies. The table is updated every month.
Since the first report in November 2017, Rapid Response has resulted in a number of companies enacting moratoriums, suspension of purchase orders, and strengthened procurement policies. In short, it works. But perhaps more significantly, Rapid Response demonstrates that a big slice of the global oil palm trade can be effectively monitored every month. The platform is built using open source technology and open data approaches.
Room for improvement
Rapid Response has its limits. Not every concession flagged by rapid response stops clearing forest, particularly those where a supply chain link cannot be verified. We also don’t monitor the 40% of palm oil coming from smallholders and there are almost certainly industrial areas that are not covered by our concession database.
Automating Rapid Response
Forest Report list of oil palm concessions
We plan to move Rapid Response onto our forthcoming Forest Report technology. Concessions will be organized into monitoring lists and automatically ranked according by the most alerts or fires. Each concessions will have a dashboard featuring statistics, alerts, maps, and before and after satellite imagery. Forest Report will also feature a report writing template, so researchers can compile information into a report template, producing a report that can instantly be shared with a trader or as a PDF. Forest Report will make both continued monitoring of concessions as well as researching new leads much faster and more efficient.
A blueprint for the future?
Rapid Response ultimately illustrates that deforestation free supply chains are within reach. If we, Mighty Earth, and AidEnvironment can do it, so can large companies. It’s technically feasible, affordable, and not complicated.
In April, we will be making Forest Report available to any organization or company who wants to get start monitoring their supply chains. Please get in touch at info(at)maphubs.com if you want to give it a go.