IDB Launches New Biofuels Sustainability Scorecard; Includes Spatial Analysis/GIS Tool

idbUpdate incorporates feedback from five regional consultations and addresses concerns regarding food security, indigenous peoples and biodiversity preservation

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has released a new version of its Biofuels Sustainability Scorecard, which will enable users to better anticipate the impacts of potential biofuel projects on sensitive issues such as indigenous rights, carbon emissions from land use change, and food security.

The first version of the Scorecard, an interactive, web-based tool that was released a year ago, addressed 23 key variables including greenhouse gas emissions, water management, biodiversity and poverty reduction. The IDB subsequently held five regional meetings to solicit feedback on the Scorecard and began collecting and reviewing hundreds of comments and suggestions submitted by outside experts.

As a result, the updated version of the Scorecard includes new categories to more thoroughly capture the environmental and social dimensions of biofuels investments. Specifically, there are six new social categories that address issues relating to indigenous people, local grower arrangements and impacts on food security, among others.

“This new version of the Biofuels Sustainability Scorecard reflects the wisdom and experience of a wide spectrum of experts in academia, NGOs, multilateral institutions and the investment community,” said IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno. “Biofuels continue to be a compelling energy alternative for many Latin American and Caribbean countries, but it is essential to understand the full lifecycle impacts of a project first. This Scorecard now offers an even more effective way to ensure that proposed biofuel projects are truly sustainable.”

The new version of the Scorecard includes a spatial analysis tool that enables users to quickly access existing Geographic Information System (GIS) data regarding areas for biodiversity preservation. Future versions will add data layers to show the spatial dimensions of categories including water scarcity, cultural sites and high carbon sequestration areas, among others.

User feedback. The new Scorecard also benefitted from the criticisms and suggestions of investors who used the original version. These included the financial backers of Biobahia Oil, a large biofuel complex planned for Northeastern Brazil.

Euroventures, the company behind the project, was finding it difficult to determine the full social and environmental impacts of this ambitious project, which aims to cultivate some 30,000 hectares of land and produce 200,000 tons of biodiesel per year. So Adrian Calvert, in charge of investors’ relations at the company, sought technical assistance for a feasibility study from the IDB’s Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Initiative.

In agreeing to help, IDB experts urged the Biobahia team to run their project through the Scorecard.

“In an increasingly competitive biofuels industry, sustainability has become the key issue in ensuring access to global markets,” said Guillaume Sagez, managing partner of Euroventures. “The IDB Biofuels Sustainability Scorecard has helped us to think through our project plans and find out how we can adopt certain practices to achieve a higher degree of environmental and social sustainability.”

Among other things, Sagez said the Scorecard showed his project team that they would need to look more closely at the carbon emissions that would result from proposed land use changes in the project, along with nitrogen oxide emissions that can be expected from cultivation and fertilizer application.

After using the Scorecard, the Biobahia team suggested improvements to the tool that have now made their way into a new version. Going forward, the IDB plans to continue soliciting input on ways to strengthen the Scorecard. The Bank is part of the Global Bioenergy Partnership and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, both global efforts to develop sustainability criteria for biofuels, and IDB specialists will coordinate with the Food and Agriculture Organization to improve the Scorecard over the next year.

[Source: Inter-American Development Bank press release ]

MIT Students Take Pictures “from Space” on $150 Budget


“Two MIT students have successfully photographed the earth from space on a strikingly low budget of $148. Perhaps more significantly, they managed to accomplish this feat using components available off-the-shelf to the average layperson, opening the doors for a new generation of amateur space enthusiasts. The pair plan to launch again soon and hope that their achievements will inspire teachers and students to pursue similar endeavors.

“Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh have always dreamed of seeing the earth from space, but until recently, they believed that they had neither the budget nor the technical expertise to get a camera into the stratosphere.”

Measuring Water from the Sky: Satellites Track Consumption

…from the Washington Post

“Water management is serious business in the American West, where precipitation is scarce, irrigated agriculture is a major industry, new housing subdivisions spread across arid landscapes and water rights are allocated in a complicated seniority system.  “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” water officials are fond of saying.  But measurement — trying to determine how much water is diverted from rivers and how much is pumped from hundreds of thousands of wells — has been an inexact and expensive science.”

Exploring Climate Change with ArcGIS Explorer

…from the GIS Education Community Blog

“One cool thing about being an educator is that there’s no end of subjects that matter. One cool thing about being a geographer is seeing the ways in which all things are related. And one cool thing about being a techie in the 21st century is that there is unlimited opportunity for exploration.


“In preparation for Earth Science Week, I built a lesson using ArcGIS Explorer, in order to do some quick examination of one indicator of climate change — sea surface temperature. The lesson relies on data in KML format from the NASA Earth Observation web site. You can find the lesson at ArcLessons. Just do a search on ‘Climate’.”

How to Create a Common Operational Picture with GIS Software: Free Online Seminar

esriESRI Live Training Seminar Will Demonstrate How GIS Technology Provides Comprehensive Situational Awareness

During a natural disaster such as a wildfire, a threat to homeland security, or an emergency such as a chemical spill, agencies rely on a common operational picture (COP) to monitor, respond to, and manage the situation. A COP creates broad situational awareness by combining important geographic information system (GIS) basemap data, such as imagery, critical infrastructure, and hazards, with changing, up-to-the-minute information from cameras, sensors, and other communication devices.

ESRI will host a seminar on September 24, 2009, to demonstrate how a COP can be created using ESRI’s ArcGIS software. Creating a Common Operational Picture with ArcGIS will air at at 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 3:00 p.m. (Pacific daylight time).

Many organizations, such as emergency management and law enforcement agencies, use ArcGIS technology to create, manage, and serve maps and GIS services through a COP. The seminar’s presenters will explain the requirements and capabilities needed to enable a COP using ArcGIS, along with the considerations that need to be taken into account for the users.

Attendees will learn

  • What a COP means and involves
  • How and why a COP created using GIS provides complete situational awareness
    • What’s needed to put a COP in place, including requirements for data management, planning, analysis, situational awareness, and field operations support

This live training seminar was created for professionals and GIS analysts who work in public safety; law enforcement; homeland security; and emergency, wildfire, and disaster management. Employees in industries or government agencies that manage a large number of assets will also find the seminar very useful.

A broadband Internet connection and an ESRI Global Account are needed to watch the seminar. Creating a global account is easy and free: visit, click Login, and register your name and address. A few weeks after the live presentation, the seminar will be archived and available for viewing on the ESRI Training Web site.

“It’s Not Just Maps, It’s Geography”

wsj…from the Wall Street Journal

“Thanks to the Web, geographic information systems, or GIS, which can build maps out of all sorts of data, are moving from the world of cartographic professionals to just about everyone else, says Mr. Dangermond, founder of ESRI, a GIS software firm. One big beneficiary is government transparency; putting important public information on user-friendly maps makes it easier for citizens to track spending, monitor crime activity and tell whether there’s enough sunlight to make solar power pay. For instance,, a site created to track the flow of federal stimulus funds, features several interactive maps that show spending by state and by recipient.”

GIS the Big Winner in Push for Open Government

…from Government Technology

“For all the lofty statements made during the first day of the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C., about opening up government and its vast reservoirs of data to improve democracy and citizen engagement, it was clear there would be one major winner: GIS.

“The math is simple. According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Federal Enterprise Architecture framework, 74 percent of government data is location based. At the state and local level, the number is even higher: 80 percent, according to several organizations and publications.”

GeoDesign Demonstration: Site Suitability for Microsoft Surface

From Richie C. in ESRI’s Applications Prototype Lab

“During the 2009 ESRI International User Conference, Jack Dangermond introduced his vision of geographic design or “geodesign”.  Click here to view Jack’s presentation of his geodesign vision.  To assist Jack’s presentation, a few demonstrations were created to help illustrate this vision.  One such demonstration used a Microsoft Surface device to sketch planning areas on an interactive map.

“This application was developed using the ArcGIS API for WPF by the Applications Prototype Lab.  The base map is from ArcGIS Online and the overlaid suitability maps were sourced from a local ArcGIS Server.  In summary, this application demonstrates the interactivity of a multi-user/multi-touch device for planning and communal design.”

Virtual Maps for the Blind

19007“The blind and visually impaired often rely on others to provide cues and information on navigating through their environments. The problem with this method is that it doesn’t give them the tools to venture out on their own, says Dr. Orly Lahav of Tel Aviv University’s School of Education and Porter School for Environmental Studies.

“To give navigational “sight” to the blind, Dr. Lahav has invented a new software tool to help the blind navigate through unfamiliar places. It is connected to an existing joystick, a 3-D haptic device, that interfaces with the user through the sense of touch. People can feel tension beneath their fingertips as a physical sensation through the joystick as they navigate around a virtual environment which they cannot see, only feel: the joystick stiffens when the user meets a virtual wall or barrier. The software can also be programmed to emit sounds — a cappuccino machine firing up in a virtual café, or phones ringing when the explorer walks by a reception desk.”