The Cool IT team is in Cancun this week at the International Climate Change Conference (COP16), where delegates are deep in the weeds of a global policy debate on how to cut carbon emissions. While countries are striking deals and working out differences, representatives of the corporate world and civil society observers are also buzzing about, tracking the official process and offering their own solutions.

Google is one private sector attendee.  The top-ranked company in the Political Advocacy category of our last Cool IT Leaderboard, Google will speak tomorrow at a climate conference side event, convened by our Cool IT team to address an important plank in solving the climate crisis: transformative IT solutions and the governmental support needed for their widespread deployment.

And today Google unveiled what may prove to be a transformative technology that can help countries curb a very important contributor to the world’s carbon problem, deforestation.  Google Earth Engine, as the technology is called, will apply satellite imagery data to monitor and measure the world’s forests.

From Google’s blog:

Google Earth Engine can be used for a wide range of applications—from mapping water resources to ecosystem services to deforestation. It’s part of our broader effort at Google to build a more sustainable future. We’re particularly excited about an initial use of Google Earth Engine to support development of systems to monitor, report and verify (MRV) efforts to stop global deforestation.

Google wants to provide this technology to countries that lack the technological resources to measure changes to their forests, and the company believes that Google Earth Engine will ultimately be a tool that is utilized to track progress and compliance with proposed policy frameworks.

One such framework is REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries), a program that seeks to end deforestation through the United Nations agreement. This is a critical moment for REDD, one of the key negotiations taking place this week in Cancun. A good REDD deal would benefit biodiversity, people, and the climate. Our Executive Director, Kumi, laid out Greenpeace’s objectives for a strong REDD deal and the protection of the world’s tropical forests in yesterday’s Huffington Post blog.

It is great to see a global company like Google using its experience to bring awareness to the issues of climate and deforestation, and applying its technological expertise to put forth solutions. As Google Earth Engine is further adopted and utilized, we will know more about its success in meeting its stated goal to cut global emissions through forest preservation.

In the meantime, Google’s continued engagement on climate issues and proactive policy advocacy that supports pressing environmental policy priorities, such as a strong REDD deal, will make the company a true corporate leader here in Cancun and beyond.


Photo: Google. A forest cover and water map of Mexico (southern portion, including the Yucatan peninsula), produced in collaboration with scientist Matthew Hansen and CONAFOR.