AUTHOR PROFILE Will Marshall
Curious Planeteer working to make the Earth's changes visible, accessible and actionable.
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A Commitment to Sustainability

A Commitment to Sustainability

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Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (or Global Goals) ratified last week by the United Nations will guide the international community towards a better planet over the next fifteen years.

I traveled to the United Nations Headquarters in New York to represent Planet Labs at the UN Sustainable Development Summit. I discussed how our data, as well as the technologies of other private companies, will play a crucial role in meeting the Global Goals.

This was a double honor. Firstly, the UN events are typically limited to representatives of nation-states, normally heads of state, and Planet was one of 2 companies (out of 50 speakers) invited to speak at this dialogue. It is a privilege to be recognized as being sufficiently important to the global agenda to be invited to speak. Secondly, and on a more personal note, I think the vision of the UN, what it stands for, is an absolutely fantastic one for the world. As the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said, “The UN Charter serves as our beacon; let us never relent on our path”. I was honored to attend to represent Planet. But “represent” is what it was; I wouldn’t have been invited if it wasn’t for the dedicated work of the whole team at Planet, of which I am proud to be a part.

Below is the full text of the speech we gave on the floor of the UN.

IMG_1062I represented Planet Labs at the Interactive Dialogue on Protecting our Planet and Combating Climate Change.

It’s an honor to address this Interactive Dialogue at the Sustainable Development Summit after the historic adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. Thank you to the President of the General Assembly and the co-chairs of the Dialogue for this opportunity.

It is deeply heartening that the United Nations recognizes the role and the value of the private sector, and companies such as Planet Labs, and others here today. Our presence signals our common commitment to addressing critical global challenges.

As your Excellencies know, we are in the midst of a communications revolution, much of it driven by the private sector. Since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, the growth of mobile phone use and wireless internet connectivity has been staggering, and they have become indispensable tools for inclusive sustainable development everywhere.

Likewise, we are now in the early stages of a new technology revolution – a global sensing revolution. In the decade to come sensors in our pockets, in the oceans, in the air, and in space will help us understand the changing world as never before.

Our company, Planet Labs, operates the largest constellation of Earth imaging satellites in history. Our goal is to do something truly unprecedented: to image the entire Earth, every day, and to make change on our planet visible, accessible and actionable.

Satellite imagery online today is typically years old, which presents a challenge because you can’t fix what you can’t see. Having imagery daily shall enable us to see our effects fast enough to act. It helps us to make the invisible visible.

Relevant here, this data can help us measure progress on the SDGs, filling in critical gaps in our understanding of our changing planet in order to help improve people’s lives and protect biodiversity.

According to our analysis, Planet Labs’ imagery can be used to directly (or indirectly) advance 15 of 17 SDGs, and help measure more than 70 of their related targets. I’m going to mention three examples:

First, monitoring deforestation, part of Goal 15: Today, we discover evidence of deforestation only after our forests are gone. Planet Labs’ imagery can enable us to monitor forests every day, to see illegal logging and enable proactive intervention.

Second, combating climate change, which is Goal 13: Our imagery can monitor climate change with up-to-date data on the state of the world’s ice caps and carbon stocks.

Third, ending hunger and establishing food security, which is Goal 2: Our imagery can measure the health of crops in every farmer’s field around the world, and provide vital information to them to increase crop yield.

I’m pleased to say Planet Labs is committing to make our data available and accessible to efforts aligned with meeting the SDGs.

And we’re in this for the long-term – to provide scientifically accurate and repeatable data not just for this important global moment, but for all the work that follows.

Planet Labs is collaborating with arms of the United Nations, such as the Secretary-General’s Global Pulse initiative, to explore innovative ways to harness the global sensing revolution for inclusive sustainable development, while protecting privacy and security.

Your Excellencies, in 1965 the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Adlai Stevenson, evoked a concept of a ‘Spaceship Earth’ that would motivate thinking on sustainability for decades to come, and I quote:

“We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable reserve of air and soil… preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.”

Planet Labs’ data is part of a global sensing revolution that can help us to be better caretakers of Spaceship Earth. We’re excited to work with UN member states, NGOs, and other private institutions, and I invite all other stakeholders to join us in making their data available to the societies they serve. In short, we’re all here because we’re committed to this agenda; Planet Labs data and similar technology can help us to decisively address the Global Goals.

At yesterday’s UN speech, we made clear our commitment to making our satellite imagery open and accessible to any efforts in support of the Global Goals. In this spirit, today at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data – a side meeting at the UN – we announced an initial commitment of $60 million in imagery of select regions, to enable people to use this data to develop tools and capabilities that will be extensible across the globe. This data will be available through a new Planet Labs initiative called Open Regions, under a creative commons license (CC BY-SA), and will be accessible online through our imaging platform.

Read more about the Open Regions initiative, and watch this video:

Ad astra!