advertisement
advertisement

How AI startup Pachama brings transparency to carbon offset projects

Forestry projects play a major role in corporate efforts to offset carbon emissions, but tracking their effectiveness has been a challenge.

How AI startup Pachama brings transparency to carbon offset projects
[Illustration: Goran Factory]
advertisement
advertisement

Protecting and replanting forests is a crucial part of the fight against climate change as trees pull CO2 from the atmosphere. But tracking progress—and understanding how much carbon a forest is storing—is a labor-intensive, manual process. It often involves sending teams to remote sites to count and measure trees. Because that happens infrequently, it means that data is quickly outdated.

advertisement

The startup Pachama automates the process, using lidar, satellite images, and artificial intelligence to accurately measure changes in forest cover around the world. The platform monitors trees lost to illegal deforestation or fires, and as new trees grow, the AI system estimates the total biomass to understand the full carbon benefit at any given time. The company has also built a model to track annual trends over time in the Amazon rainforest in particular. 

“All these technologies, combined together, can replace some of the manual work that was done in the past to verify and monitor the amount of carbon being sequestered by a forest,” says Pachama co-founder and CEO Diego Saez Gil. Companies like Microsoft and Shopify are now using the startup’s platform to buy trustworthy carbon credits.

“Many companies had considered investing in forest restoration and conservation but didn’t do it because of concerns about how they were going to ensure that the commitments from these projects were going to be reported,” he says. For small landowners who couldn’t afford expensive monitoring programs, the new platform helps open up the market for selling carbon credits.

Globally, the potential is huge: More than 2 billion hectares could be restored with more than a trillion trees. “We’re talking about one of the most scalable ways to sequester carbon to mitigate climate change,” says Saez Gil. “I think that this can really be the decade of forest restoration. The transparency and integrity of the claims is key. And we hope that these tools will help on that.” 

For more on Fast Company’s list of the top 10 Most Innovative Companies in artificial intelligence, click here

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

More