Can Deep Learning help to forecast deforestation in the Amazonian Rainforest? (Papers Track)

Tim Engelmann (ETH Zurich); Malte Toetzke (ETH Zurich)

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Forests Time-series Analysis


Deforestation is a major driver of climate change. To mitigate deforestation, carbon offset projects aim to protect forest areas at risk. However, existing literature shows that most projects have substantially overestimated the risk of deforestation, thereby issuing carbon credits without equivalent emissions reductions. In this study, we examine if the spread of deforestation can be predicted ex-ante using Deep Learning (DL) models. Our input data includes past deforestation development, slope information, land use, and other terrain- and soil-specific covariates. Testing predictions 1-year ahead, we find that our models only achieve low levels of predictability. For pixel-wise classification at a 30 m resolution, our models achieve an F1 score of 0.263. Only when substantially simplifying the task to predicting if any level of deforestation occurs within a 1.5 km squared tile, the model results improve to a moderate performance (F1: 0.608). We conclude that, based on our input data, deforestation cannot be predicted accurately enough to justify the ex-ante issuance of carbon credits for forest conservation projects. As main challenges, there is the extreme class imbalance between pixels that are deforested (minority) and not deforested (majority) as well as the omittance of social, political, and economic drivers of deforestation.

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