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Unlocking Climate and Sustainability Action with Remote Sensing

Descartes Labs' Applied Scientist Rose Rustowicz shares insights with members of The Sustainability Consortium at TSC Summit 2022

Ellen Griesemer & Rose Rustowicz

May 23, 2022 · 3 min read

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Descartes Labs was pleased to join The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) members at the TSC Summit 2022 this month. Applied Scientist Rose Rustowicz shared insights on satellite imagery for climate and sustainability action alongside panelists highlighting “Technologies for Monitoring Supply Chain Sustainability.” Against the backdrop of the IPCC’s recent dire warnings showing that humanity is currently on track to more than double the 1.5 degree C global warming limit set out in the Paris Agreement1, Rose shared some good and bad news with the TSC community.

 

Key takeaway #1: Corporate emissions reduction commitments have gone mainstream, but achieving and verifying progress against commitments at global scale is still a major challenge for many companies.

 

In 2021, Oxford Net Zero reported that net zero targets at the national level covered more than 80% of global GDP2. As of May 2022, the Science Based Targets Initiative indicated that more than 3,000 companies have made emissions reduction commitments3 in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Despite the mainstreaming of these commitments, many companies lack concrete action plans to achieve deep emissions cuts and struggle to measure and verify progress against their commitments at a global scale. 

 

Key takeaway #2: Tropical forests are critically important to climate solutions, yet have often been excluded from net zero commitments.

 

Rose shared that about 8% of global net emissions come from tropical deforestation. These same forests represent about a quarter of the solution, or ~ 24-30% of total potential mitigation from preservation, reforestation and afforestation4. Despite this immense climate opportunity, in 2018 the World Resources Institute reported that forests only received about 3% of climate mitigation funding5. Corporate net zero commitments have often not included the climate impact of tropical forests, although it’s worth noting that this is poised to change with the introduction of the Science Based Target Initiative Net Zero Standard and forthcoming Forest, Land-Use and Agriculture (FLAG) Standard.

With this context in mind, Rose posed a question: How do we shift from net zero commitments to net zero operations? When we can measure, reduce, offset, report, audit and verify our sustainability commitments we can achieve progress and repeat the cycle. 

 

 

Key takeaway #3: Remote sensing is critical to the shift from net zero commitments to net zero operations.

 

Remote sensing— earth observation from satellite or aerial sensors collected at a global scale— can help unlock the answers to Rose’s question. Information is collected continuously over decades, sometimes as far back as the 1980s. With a dramatic increase in sensors since 2015 leading to an explosion of information, remote sensing is capable of providing transparent, repeatable, and verifiable information globally.

 

  • Measure: Measurement and monitoring are where remote sensing really shines. Descartes Labs’ scientists monitor real-time and historical deforestation and estimate annual aboveground carbon density at scale, showing both absolute values by year as well as the change - increase or decrease in carbon.
  • Reduce: These insights give sustainability decision-makers the tools they need to respond to and mitigate real time deforestation activity and make satellite imagery-informed risk and sourcing decisions.
  • Offset: The land-use based emissions that companies can’t reduce can be offset with high-quality nature-based carbon offsets. Remote sensing can offer insights into project prospecting, verification of the principles that make a high-quality project, and ongoing monitoring and management.
  • Report: Access to information allows companies to better understand their progress, demonstrate compliance with deforestation-free commitments and ESG protocols and report to stakeholders.
  • Audit: Having verifiable and standardized data enables due diligence monitoring and third-party verification.

 

“By using technologies to monitor, understand, and report their potential environmental impacts, companies may take a vital step in demonstrating their commitments to sustainability. We were delighted that Descartes Labs drove home this point, sharing their insights, knowledge, and solutions at our TSC Summit on the topic of satellite imagery for climate and sustainability action.”

— Chris Randle, Spatial Data Analyst, The Sustainability Consortium

 

Watch Rose’s presentation as well as panelists Dr. Meaghan Parker Forney, World Resources Institute and Leandro Baumgarten, The Nature Conservancy here

 

 


About The Sustainability Consortium | The Sustainability Consortium is a multi-stakeholder convener dedicated to transforming the consumer goods industry with sustainability solutions through its membership and partner organizations. TSC counts corporations as well as non-profit organizations and academic institutions among its 100+ strong membership.

 

Footnotes

  1. https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1115452 
  2. https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2021-11-01-80-world-economy-now-aiming-net-zero-not-all-pledges-are-equal
  3. https://sciencebasedtargets.org/companies-taking-action 
  4. Pan et al., “A Large and Persistent Carbon Sink in the World’s Forests,” Science 333, no. 6045 (2011): 988-93; A. Baccini et al., “Estimating Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Tropical Deforestation Improved by Carbon-Density Maps,” Nature Climate Change 2, no. 3 (2012): 182-85. Gibbs, Harris, Seymour; By the Numbers: The Value of Tropical Forests in the Climate Change Equation: https://www.wri.org/insights/numbers-value-tropical-forests-climate-change-equation 
  5. Gibbs, Harris, Seymour; By the Numbers: The Value of Tropical Forests in the Climate Change Equation: https://www.wri.org/insights/numbers-value-tropical-forests-climate-change-equation