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Working towards transparent and objective risk assessment and land use verification

Background

Land use and land use change and its impacts on carbon stock and biodiversity is central to the sustainability debate. Priority areas for nature conservation like wetlands, peatlands, primary forests and protected areas are especially affected by land use change. Their conversion into cropland has severe effects like the release of significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the diminishment of biodiverse habitats has non-reversible consequences like the extinction of species. Beside environmental aspects social issues like working and general living conditions play a crucial role in the sustainability debate.
In the food, feed, chemical and biofuels sector voluntary as well as legal requirements exist that address the urging sustainability issues. An increasing number of standards and certification systems implement these requirements while using different approaches and verification processes. GRAS contributes to a more unifed and transparent verification. Hence, GRAS facilitates the certification process, lowers the costs for certification and lightens the burdens for farmers and companies. At the same time it increases the effectiveness and reliability of certification.

Concept

The objective of the GRAS project is to develop a tool that provides reliable information on biodiversity, carbon stock and social indices and allows the identification of land use change.
GRAS worked towards this objective on several work packages:

1. In a first step, a needs assessment was carried out. The results showed that not only auditors conducting sustainability certifications benefit from the tool but also companies that want to verify the sustainability of their biomass supplies. Furthermore, banks and investors can use the tool to line sustainable investment decisions. Another finding of the needs assessment was the broader coverage and integration of social issues in the tool.

2. In a second step available databases containing information about biodiversity were analyzed and their eligibility for the integration in the tool was assessed. Wherever necessary data sharing agreements with the respective data providers were established. Carbon maps showing the total carbon content of regions were calculated on the basis of internationally approved methodologies. Furthermore, information about social issues were gathered from renowned international organizations and on this basis a country-specific social indicator was calculated.

3. In a third step a research for eligible remote sensing data was conducted. Satellite images from various sources were assessed regarding their spatial and temporal resolution and coverage and their availability. Medium-resolution satellite images from MODIS were identified as most eligible for the identification of land use change in the period around 2008.

4. The development of a method to identify land use change was especially challenging. Remote sensing experts from Meo Carbon Solutions and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) worked closely together and succeeded in developing a sophisticated algorithm and analyzing method to identify land use change using medium-resolution satellite imagery. The applied algorithms have been verified and successfully tested on the ground. Several pilot assessments have shown the high accuracy and convincing performance of the tool.

5. Finally, a user-friendly web application was developed which combines and displays all the information in a straight-forward, easy-to-use way. Users can assess their own specific cases, ranging from the analysis of specific farms / plantations to the analysis of entire sourcing regions or countries. Results can be saved and documented in a report.The web application is available for selected pilot regions.

GRAS has been developed in a process which included the involvement of several stakeholders from agriculture, industry, trade, research, authorities and NGOs. Stakeholder workshops in which the tool was presented and discussed, took place in Europe, the Americas, and South East Asia.GRAS is not designed to remain in a steady-state after the ending of the project. GRAS will be continuously improved, administrators and developers will make sure that data sources will be updated and methods will be state of the art. Furthermore, GRAS always welcomes the contribution of stakeholders and users as they help GRAS to further enhance its services.

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