Robeco teams up with Satelligence to detect deforestation in palm oil plantations


Robeco has signed a letter of intent to collaborate with Satelligence, an Utrecht-based company with more than 20 years’ experience in leveraging satellite imagery on deforestation.

The agreement will enable checks to be made on whether forests in Malaysia and Indonesia are being cleared to make way for new palm oil trees.
 
Addressing sustainability issues in the palm oil industry is a major engagement theme for Robeco in 2019, using a combination of enhanced engagement and a screening system to target producers directly. A key benchmark is the amount of land under cultivation that has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a not-for-profit group that Robeco joined in January.
 
Satelligence accesses data from satellites that can take high-quality pictures from orbit, allowing ‘before-and-after’ comparisons to be made continuously. The imagery comes from satellites operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and NASA, orbiting 700 km above South-East Asia, West Africa and Central and South America.
 
The ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellite, launched in 2014 as part of the Copernicus scientific program, is so powerful it can pinpoint and precisely ‘photograph’ pieces of land five meters in diameter through the clouds. Aside from deforestation, it can detect oil spills, melting sea ice and flooding as part of the EU’s Earth Monitoring program.
 
The satellites can target different crops subject to sustainability issues, including cocoa, soy and timber. Artificial intelligence is used to enhance the data analysis and keep track of quickly moving events. Continuously updated, it provides a real-time commodity map of the world.
 
The data can be used to engage with plantation owners, traders, intermediaries and other players in the supply chain, as well as to alert authorities of any criminal activity. The methods were developed in close cooperation with scientists at the Netherlands’ Wageningen University, which specializes in life sciences and natural resources.
 
Peter van der Werf, Engagement Specialist, Robeco, says: “Building on the annual benchmark of palm oil companies as published by the Zoological Society of London’s Sustainability Policy Transparency Toolkit (ZSL-SPOTT), which we use in our engagement program, this project now gives us the ability to develop real time monitoring of the palm oil companies commitments to no deforestation.”
 
“By collaborating for this pilot, Robeco can be at the forefront of integrating satellite-derived sustainability metrics into sustainability research to support our investment decisions. Together with Satelligence, we can build a system that can monitor the progress of companies towards 100 per cent RSPO-certified plantations, and drive the transformation to a sustainable palm oil industry.”
 

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