PlanetScope image of tropical rainforest environment in Peru taken June 5, 2023. © 2023 Planet Labs PBC. All Rights Reserved.
Tara O’Shea is the Director of Forest Programs at Planet.

The NICFI Satellite Data Program: Celebrating Three Years of Using Space to Help Reduce & Reverse Tropical Forest Loss


By Seamus Lombardo, Luisa Teixeira, Tara O’Shea

Every quarter, we publish a blog post that highlights some of the amazing work of the NICFI Satellite Data Program’s community of users. This October, we are pleased to not only continue this tradition, but also celebrate three years of this program and contract, a unique public-private partnership to leverage commercial Earth observation technologies to advance the public purpose of Norway’s International Climate & Forests Initiative.

To celebrate three years of the program to date, we decided to compile some of its impacts on the seven NICFI Strategic Areas. Take a look below to learn more about how commercial space technologies are helping advance these international initiatives for reducing and reversing tropical forest loss.

Hear directly from NICFI users on impacts of the program 3 years to date.

Strategic Area #1: Land Use Policies

Land use governance is critical to reducing deforestation, decoupling deforestation from commodities production, and meeting global climate and sustainable development goals. Reducing and reversing tropical forest loss goes hand in hand with governing for more sustainable land use. Through the NICFI Satellite Data Program, Planet Monthly Basemaps products have helped a number of developing and emerging country governments more sustainably manage their land use in order to meet their national development goals and international climate pledges.

Some examples include:

  • Six Congo Basin Countries, through the Central African Forest Initiative, are using the NICFI Satellite Data Program Level 1 Basemaps to better understand drivers of deforestation and degradation – and thus improve policies for managing these drivers in their landscape planning.
  • In Laos, the government has worked with GIZ to use the Program’s data to increase clarity of local land tenure, helping prevent outside interventions that drive deforestation rates.
  • In Guatemala, the government is leveraging the Program’s data to complement its forest assessment. Through this assessment, they are able to reinforce the country’s National Forestry Incentives System.

Strategic Area #2: Rights of Indigenous Peoples

There is growing scientific consensus that stewardship of forests by indigenous peoples averts deforestation. Yet these indigenous communities and their ancestral lands are under intense deforestation pressure and subject to a host of negative impacts of forest loss. NICFI Satellite Data Program Level 1 data has been used extensively by indigenous communities to support their efforts to prevent deforestation. The program, along with platform partners, continues to advance applications by these communities who are often socioeconomically vulnerable. Planet-NICFI survey data indicates dozens of users employing Planet data in contexts related to indigenous communities. 

There is significant coverage of indigenous lands in Latin America by the footprint of Planet data used for sustainable forest management. Within this sustainable forest management imagery footprint, over 1.1 million sq. km has been linked to indigenous and community forest management use cases. 

Strategic Area #3: Carbon Markets and International Support Structures

The consistency, transparency, and rigor that high-resolution data provides is helping overcome previous roadblocks to the potential of REDD+ programs, policies, and other carbon markets. Level 1 Planet data is actively used by governments, NGOs, companies, and researchers as a crucial data source for monitoring, mapping, and change detection within REDD+ MRV; and the Program’s Level 2 Planet and SPOT data provide critical updates for reference (baseline) levels. These tools increasingly help facilitate REDD+ verification and performance based payments. 

A few examples include:

  • Successful REDD+ performance based payments to countries: Costa Rica produced land use maps using Planet data for its forest reference level, a requirement for results based payments. Costa Rica has received payments for  10 million tCO2eq.
  • Increasing REDD+ capacity in Africa: NICFI-Planet data has been used for Cameroon and by Mozambique for MRV on REDD+ programs. Recent research also shows the benefits of Planet data for REDD+ initiatives in Tanzania and Ethiopia
  • 89% of Guyana’s forests, which sequester 8.9 billion tons CO2e (ESA CCI dataset), are imaged with Planet data to support sustainable forest management. Guyana is successfully issuing verified emission reductions and has signed significant purchase agreements on that carbon with Norway and with Hess Corporation.
PlanetScope (left) and purchased SkySat (right) used by the Guyana Forestry Commission in REDD+ MRV activities. These images show an abandoned mine covered in low vegetation (Guyana REDD+ MRV Report, 2021).

Strategic Area #4: Transparency

Transparency is the basis for prevention and condemning forest crime. As in Planet’s motto “You can’t fix what you can’t see,” visibility into a region is crucial for effective action, and new technologies can help actors from the private sector, media, and NGOs with that.

A few examples include:

Strategic Area #5: Deforestation-Free Commodity Markets

Frequent, high-resolution Planet data helps promote the transparent and rigorous enforcement of sustainable supply chain initiatives through identification of illegal pastures, mining, logging, and expansion of agricultural land linked to deforestation and forest degradation. These capabilities can strengthen regulatory (e.g. EU’s Deforestation Regulation and Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) and voluntary (e.g. Science Based Targets for Nature and Science Based Targets Initiative, Forest, Land and Agriculture) efforts as they come into effect – and thereby stimulate sustainable business compliance operations – by 2024.

A few examples include:

  • Identifying and mapping commodity supply chain assets: UK Ordnance Survey pilot is using NICFI Satellite Data Program Level 1 data to create a location register which provides a trusted location platform to conduct due diligence on commodity assets to identify, prevent, or mitigate risk through more effective monitoring and smart procurement contracts. 
  • Palm oil and pulp/paper supply chains: Multiple NGOs identified deforestation due to palm oil plantations using the Program’s data, as well as deforestation due to pulp and paper supply chains.  

Strategic Area #6: Deforestation-Free Financial Markets

There are a growing number of compliance-based and voluntary ESG corporate reporting frameworks that seek to increase the accountability of investors and businesses’ impacts on nature, including tropical deforestation, through assessment, reporting, and disclosure. These efforts (ex: TNFD and SBTN) seek to channel capital into positive actions and embed nature-based targets in capital markets. These reporting efforts accompany commitments from financial institutions to address deforestation. Survey data indicates that the NICFI Satellite Data Program has advanced user interest, R&D, and applications in this space –  with dozens of NICFI-Planet users from the finance and insurance sector. Arguably, the program is thereby helping stimulate sustainable business compliance operations as new regulatory disclosure requirements come into effect in 2024. 

Some examples include:

Strategic Area #7: International Forest Crime

With its broad high-resolution coverage, including wall-to-wall coverage of remote forest areas, NICFI Satellite Data Program data can also help aid in the detection and prosecution of forest crimes. These capabilities are strengthening efforts by NGOs, like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and journalists to expose and identify forest crimes as well as support government enforcement agencies in seeking to mitigate forest crimes.