Justice and ethics in conservation remote sensing: Current discourses and research needs

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Advances in remote sensing are transforming research and practice in biodiversity conservation. But the increasing use of these technologies and data also provokes major ethical and social justice questions. In this scoping review, we examine the extent to and ways in which ethics and justice are discussed in relation to uses of remote sensing in conservation. Our literature search identifies only 31 peer-reviewed English language papers containing substantive discussion of justice and/or ethics and conservation remote sensing. Within these papers, emergent themes and tensions include the use of remote sensing technologies for surveillance (and the extent to which this is framed as positive or negative), the militarised associations of remote sensing technologies, the ways that remote sensing technologies can disrupt or harden power asymmetries, and whether the greatest ethical risks or benefits are seen as being for people or other species. Building on recommendations identified in this review, we reflect on how conservation can learn from work on data ethics in other fields, such as the ethics of artificial intelligence. We also discuss the mechanisms (such as formal laws, journal review procedures, and greater individual reflexivity) which could support the use of remote sensing technologies and data to advance socially just conservation. Finally, we highlight research priorities including the need for more comparative case study analyses, greater research efforts on the political economy and geopolitics of conservation remote sensing, and work which situates novel technologies within longer-standing debates about ethics and philosophies of biodiversity conservation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number110319
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date11 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


  • Conservation
  • Digital
  • Earth observation
  • Ethics
  • Justice
  • Remote sensing


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