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2017-10-29 | News

Satellite images shine a spotlight on forest damage and water shortages

Kitty van der Heijden, Director, WRI Europe & Africa

With a blunt warning that “the bad guys can’t hide anymore because we’re seeing them from the sky,” Kitty van der Heijden, Deputy Director of the World Resources Institute, told the 11th Annual Meeting of the EfD Initiative how the data revolution can be used to hold powerful interests accountable when they misuse natural resources.

Taking water and forests as examples, van der Heijden delivered the second keynote address at the annual meeting, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 26-30, 2017. Working with satellite imagery, she explained, WRI can pinpoint water scarcity and can detect whether businesses are living up to green promises on the ground. One company lost its place on the stock exchange because WRI showed proof that, contrary to its claims, it was cutting down entire areas of forest to produce cocoa. Other companies have committed to producing palm oil without deforestation, knowing that they will be held accountable by photographic evidence.

Business executives also use this kind of data in their own long-range self-interest, van der Heijden explained. A survey of CEOs showed that they are worried about water shortages in the next decade, because of the crucial role of water in producing electricity – both hydroelectricity and cooling systems for other types of energy.

“The only way to really make changes with data is to tell stories with it,” concluded van der Heijden, inviting EfD researchers to join WRI in using data to bridge the gap between science and policy makers.

By: Cyndi Berck