"We will only be able to solve the biggest environmental challenges of our time if we get the data right," Erik Solheim, the head of UN Environment, said in a release. "UN Environment is excited to be partnering with Google, to make sure we have the most sophisticated online tools to track progress, identify priority areas for our action, and bring us one step closer to a sustainable world."
In the short term, Google will focus on fresh-water ecosystems such as mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes. Google will produce geospatial maps and data on these ecosystems, thanks to "massive parallel cloud computing technology." Countries and organizations can rely on both satellite images and generated statistics on the degree of change in these areas.
Longer term goals are focused on ensuring that the project becomes a platform for open-source, free environmental data. Both organizations hope to use it in order to gauge progress on the UN's sustainable development goals. This isn't the first use of satellite imagery to determine the impact of human activity on the environment, but it is one of the largest, and the fact that access to the data will be free of charge is definitely huge.