December 14, 2010; Source: Mercury News | The decisions made at last week’s UN climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, have made headlines, but one important announcement by Google may have passed by most readers. Earth Engine, new software developed by Google, will map forest conditions worldwide, and make the data available to anyone with Internet access.

Google’s satellite imagery will provide states, nonprofits, and researchers with data on deforestation, the practice that accounts for nearly 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions each year. The software will make it easier and less costly to implement forest-monitoring programs, a prerequisite for the summit’s plan to restore and preserve forests where they are the most essential to combating greenhouse gases. In the video below, Google describes Earth Engine as an environmental watch program that anyone can use.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Google’s philanthropic arm are funding the program, which not only assists nonprofits, but also is a product of their making—nonprofits from around the world, including climate advocates and universities, collaborated with Google.

Additionally, Google is donating 10 million computing hours per year for the next two years to developing countries that want to implement Earth Engine. The search giant’s unofficial motto may be “don’t be evil,” but in this case they’re positively doing good.—James David Morgan