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Building the Foundation for REDD+: Recommendations for Durban on Forest Monitoring

Though forests play an essential role in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the development of systems to monitor deforestation and forest degradation has been slow. This is due to the demanding technical requirements and the large capacity gaps in many countries. Measuring and monitoring change on the ground and via satellite in a consistent way is no easy task.

Countries need to develop national measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) systems to monitor progress towards achieving REDD+ goals. Establishing procedures to do so would be a significant outcome of the UN climate negotiations in Durban. This task falls to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). Developing reliable MRV systems is imperative to the accurate accounting of emission reductions, cultivation of confidence in activities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (known as REDD+), and ultimately, to the implementation of REDD+. So what should the SBSTA focus on?

Country Submissions on MRV for REDD+: What’s on the table?

Sixteen official submissions, representing over 40 countries, were submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) expressing views on the development on MRV systems. Countries emphasized the following:

  • National guidance for sub-national monitoring. Countries are considering sub-national (i.e. local- or state-level) monitoring as an interim measure while national forest monitoring systems are developed. However, it is essential for sub-national monitoring within a country to use common elements, such as inventory design, measurement and reporting, and definitions. Countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) advocated for measures to ensure consistency and compatibility of sub-national monitoring systems for eventual integration into a national monitoring system.

  • Consistent approaches to measurement. Consistency in the analysis of forest cover change, such as spatial and temporal resolution of mapping, is needed to allow for comparability over time and accurate measurement of emission reductions. The Coalition for Rainforest Nations, the European Union, Japan and the United States all recommended that consistency be prioritized.

  • Improved frequency of monitoring. Australia and the United States both suggested that rapid detection of forest change be prioritized in order to strengthen MRV. This would allow for more immediate and timely responses to address drivers of deforestation.

Recommendations: What should the SBSTA consider?

As part of WRI’s Measurement and Performance Tracking Project, a team has been evaluating forest carbon monitoring systems in seven countries -- Indonesia, Thailand, India, Ethiopia, South Africa, Brazil and Colombia. This research has demonstrated that there are several components of forest monitoring systems that will be important to consider during the next round of negotiations in Durban, some of which countries are already supporting. Some major elements that countries and the SBSTA should consider when developing MRV systems and rules, respectively, are as follows:

  • Monitoring systems designed to detect country-specific drivers of change. Countries designing a forest carbon monitoring system should aim to collect data via a combination of satellite imagery and ground-based observations. Specifically, this system should be tailored to and capable of detecting country-specific drivers of change. For instance, countries trying to detect selective logging will need a higher spatial resolution than countries dealing with large-scale agricultural expansion.

  • Data consistency and comparability. Monitoring methods within a country should be consistent and data should be updated regularly to enable comparability over time. When methods used to generate information for two or more years are different, the interpretation of the changes occurring may be incorrect. For instance, if a comparison between two years shows an increase in forest cover, this may be due to a difference in data collection methods rather than a result of policy implementation.

  • Frequent monitoring. Information on forest resources updated at least annually is essential for understanding the causes of trends and drivers of change. Time lapses greater than a year may fail to capture an intermediate and possibly significant driver of change. Some systems have been developed for cost-effective monitoring on more frequent basis, for example Brazil’s DETER system, which provides data on forest change every two weeks. While these systems have comparatively lower spatial resolution, they can be paired with more accurate, but also more expensive, higher resolution methods to achieve the dual goals of monitoring systems.

  • Standards for sub-national monitoring. Local or state entities often participate in ground-based data collection and monitoring when a driver of forest change is difficult to detect by satellite imagery. To enable efficient and accurate aggregation of information at the national level, sub-national monitoring should be guided by a common standard and protocol. Technical capacity for monitoring forests is often lacking on the sub-national level. Countries will also need to focus on training personnel and supplying adequate equipment to enable accurate data collection and adherence to a common monitoring standard and protocol.

  • Comprehensive data management systems. Forest cover change data that is not informed by up-to-date tenure, land use and permitting data could be misinterpreted. The types of mitigation and enforcement in response to new information would be very different, depending on whether the activity causing change is legal or not. Thus, countries should work on integrating forest-related data to enable users to better pinpoint specific drivers of change, design more effective policy responses, and enforce policies. Integration of data requires coordination between ministries to contribute data to a centrally located data management system. This system should transparently and reliably provide up-to-date information on tenure, permits, infrastructure, populations, and other spatial data.

Countries preparing to receive REDD+ funding are expecting guidance and rules on MRV from the UNFCCC. While the SBSTA must stay mindful of varying country circumstances, there are some common components of a forest monitoring systems listed above that would greatly enhance effectiveness and quality of monitoring. SBSTA should establish a set of standards, with technical detail, to guide countries in their MRV capacity building efforts.


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