INFORM protocol delivers reliable metric of deforestation risk

INFORM protocol delivers reliable metric of deforestation risk

Senior researcher Dr Neil Caithness recently represented Oxford e-Research Centre's Energy and Environmental ICT group at a joint Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Global Canopy Program (GCP) workshop under the Transformative Transparency initiative. The initiative is a traceability platform which helps link the social and environmental impacts and opportunities to specific traders, manufacturers, retailers and investors worldwide.

Neil reported on the International Forest Risk Model (INFORM) project he has carried out with the Centre's Professor David Wallom and collaborators at GCP. INFORM is a decision-support platform that aims to help private and public institutions worldwide to reduce the deforestation risks associated with their supply chains and investments.

Oxford e-Research Centre developed a protocol for the platform which calculates the risk of association with tropical deforestation for any commodity at any point along a commercial supply chain. The decision support metric consists of a series of equations applied using end-to-end data, and is relevant to both corporate and non-profit stakeholders with an interest in mitigating the damaging effects of tropical deforestation.

Despite initial concerns that the long sequence of summation equations would lead to a compounding of uncertainties, such that the resulting number has no reliable interpretation, the protocol has been proved to deliver a reliable metric of risk. The protocol also included for the first time a robust penalty for historical deforestation, and a corresponding reward for reductions in the rate of deforestation.

Over 70% of tropical deforestation in the last decade has been driven by agricultural expansion to produce a small number of globally-traded commodities including soya, beef and timber. Through criteria-based assessments and probability calculations using a wide range of global data sets, INFORM assesses the risk that a product or commodity is linked to deforestation and provides a simple risk assessment to users on their procurement or investment.

The project team are now in the final stages of submitting a paper to the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management and will collaborate further with the Transformative Transparency initiative to implement the INFORM protocol in their forest risk decision support tool.

The workshop was held at the Old Fire Station in Oxford, on Wednesday 13 April 2016.