Tropical Forest, Birunga National Park. © 2020, Planet Labs Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Tara O’Shea is the Director of Forest Programs at Planet.

Universal Access to Satellite Monitoring Paves the Way to Protect the World’s Tropical Forests


In September 2020, Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment awarded an international contract to Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), who, in partnership with Planet and Airbus, have since been providing universal access to high-resolution satellite monitoring of the tropics to support efforts to stop deforestation and save the world’s tropical forests. The contract is valued up to 405M NOK (~$43.5M, ~37M ‎€).

In these five months, the coalition of these geospatial organizations has been successful in advancing the mission of Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI), which aims to protect the world’s tropical forests and provide sustainable pathways to economic development for tropical forest communities and countries. 

While there is a long way to go, we wanted to begin sharing stories that demonstrate how high-resolution satellite monitoring is being applied globally reduce deforestation in the tropics. 

Under the UN-REDD Programme, The Republic of Congo is using Planet data to complete its national measurement and reporting to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The national-scale data exercise relies on the provision of regular, cloud-free <5 meter satellite imagery to help assess changes in land cover and land use. Planet is especially helpful in the Congo, where traditional, less frequent Earth Observation datasets have been limited by cloud cover. 

In Peru, the Ministry of Environment (MINAM) and the Forest Wildlife Service (SERFOR) are leveraging the data via the UN-REDD Programme to improve its Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL), a key benchmark for its measurement of the Amazon region and reporting to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. With a need to improve its deforestation estimates from 2007 to 2019, Peru has been able to take advantage of Planet’s cloud-free Basemaps, as well as the dates which are affiliated with each image, in order to provide accurate analyses of land use cover changes. 

This heat map shows the top streamed tile counts across countries with access to high-resolution satellite data through the NICFI Satellite Data Program.

The Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is developing near-real time deforestation alert systems in the Lower Mekong region, inclusive of Thailand, Vietnam, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, and Cambodia. This project is helping these countries build plans to track forestry operations and take preventative action against illegal or unsustainable harvest activity, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Planet datasets enable the countries in the Lower Mekong region to validate the accuracy of the information that is sent to officers in the field. Over time, the high-resolution images will reduce the need for groundwork validation. 

Meanwhile, private and nonprofit organizations are also using the data to make an impact. Amazon Conservation Association is using the data to improve real-time monitoring and quickly share findings with partners on the ground. This has allowed their team to rapidly detect, confirm, and coordinate on-the-ground responses to deforestation activities in the Colombian, Ecuadorian, and Peruvian Amazon. 

SkyTruth is combining the Planet data made available through the NICFI Satellite Data Program with publicly available missions, such as Sentinel and Landsat, to deliver deforestation alerts, specifically focusing on alerts over protected areas to increase intervention and action. 

Since the launch of the NICFI Satellite Data Program, Planet Basemaps are now what users most actively choose on Global Forest Watch (GFW), accounting for 63% of basemap selections and 62,000 toggles on the GFW platform. Furthermore, over 4,000 users, representing 120 countries and government, nonprofit, and private sectors, have signed up to access and download the NICFI data through the Planet platform.

With access to Planet’s high-quality data, countries around the globe are better prepared to protect the world’s tropical forests against deforestation and tackle climate change.   

Are you working to reduce and reverse tropical deforestation? Visit us to learn more about the NICFI Satellite Data Program.