World Journal

Artificial Intelligence: A Vital Ally in the Fight Against Illegal Deforestation

Artificial Intelligence: A Vital Ally in the Fight Against Illegal Deforestation

Over the past three decades, the world has witnessed the loss of 420 million hectares of forest cover, an alarming figure reported in FAO’s 2022 report The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO). This devastating loss of forests profoundly affects our planet, accelerating global warming, degrading natural habitats and promoting the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. In the face of these challenges, forest preservation emerges as a compelling need for human survival, an area in which Artificial Intelligence is playing a crucial role.

Deforestation, often fueled by illegal activities such as mining, housing development and forest fires, poses a significant threat to forest ecosystems. However, thanks to AI, it is now possible to identify and monitor vulnerable areas, thereby preventing further damage. Innovative tools such as PrevisIA, developed by Microsoft, Imazon and Vale Fund, use Azure’s cloud to analyze satellite imagery and predict areas at risk, offering a valuable resource for combating deforestation.

Illegal logging, which accounts for up to 90 percent of deforestation in tropical forest areas, contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions. Projects like Google’s TensorFlow, used by the NGO Rainforest Connections, leverage weatherproof sensors made from old cell phones to detect the sounds of chainsaws and logging trucks, protecting hundreds of hectares of rainforest.

In addition to monitoring, AI is helping to make forest data more accurate. Tools such as MANA Vox AI, developed in collaboration with IBM, analyze social media discussions regarding deforestation, allowing nonprofits to better target their efforts. This is critical for forest conservation, as accurate and up-to-date data are essential for implementing effective strategies.

However, it should be noted that AI technology is also accelerating the reforestation process. Initiatives such as that of Reforestum and Dendra Systems use satellite imaging and drones to monitor tree growth and manage vegetation, facilitating carbon offsets and promoting biodiversity.

Finally, another significant example, this time of collaboration between nonprofits, academics and the private sector is the advanced Forest Foresight computer model developed by WWF-Netherlands. This tool can predict forest loss up to six months in advance with 80 percent accuracy, enabling early interventions that have already proven their effectiveness in Gabon and Borneo.

Despite these innovations, it is critical to recognize that the effectiveness of AI is limited without true and concrete commitment from world governments. Conservation policies must be implemented in a way that takes advantage of AI-generated information, discouraging illegal activities and promoting timely conservation initiatives.

In fact, the importance of coordinated local action is another crucial aspect of using AI against deforestation. While AI tools show promise in predicting areas at risk, the real impact comes through action on the ground. Local communities, often the most affected by deforestation, play a vital role in monitoring their forests. Thanks to AI, patrol teams can now be more accurately targeted to high-risk areas, enabling preventive rather than reactive action. This approach not only saves valuable acres of forest but also strengthens the connection between communities and their environment, encouraging long-term environmental stewardship. 

Collaboration between nonprofits, local governments, and indigenous communities is key to implementing these technologies effectively, ensuring that AI tools are not just a technological exercise but a real means of environmental change.

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