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This report is a comprehensive plan to use in situ and satellite observing systems to assess and monitor carbon stocks on land an in the atmosphere.

The plan was endorsed by the major earth observing agencies and the in situ observing systems at the sixth meeting of the Integrated Global Observing System Partners. It lays out the way forward for countries to systematically measure and monitor the amounts of carbon in their forests, crops, rangelands, soil and atmosphere.

Why is carbon important? One could make many arguments in favour of its relevance to science, policy and sustainable development. However, in the view of FAO, foremost among these is the important role that carbon plays in sustaining agricultural productivity, biodiversity, and forest ecosystem processes. It is one of the essential ingredients to producing sufficient food, fodder, and forest products that are so important to the economies of lower income countries.

As such, there is the close link between this work and the issues that were recently taken up at the World Food Summit: five years later. Many of our member countries suffer not only from lack of access to food and chronic drought but also from vulnerability to longer-term changes that may affect their ability to produce food.

FAO has a long history of developing methodologies and technical tools aimed at sustainable agriculture and rural development and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS), which FAO has been hosting for the past seven years, is a key programme for doing this in collaboration with a number of key partners, including the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, a variety of research institutes, satellite agencies and several United Nations organizations.

The Terrestrial Carbon Observation (TCO) initiative is a logical extension of our previous work and takes us into new and emerging areas of science and policy. Effective management of the carbon cycle will contribute not only to sustainable increases in rural productivity but also to a national understanding of the role of each country in the ongoing discussions related to climate change. Better data and information about conditions and trends in countries will strengthen their position at regional and international fora.

This report provides the basis for making the systematic, long-term observation in terrestrial systems and in the atmosphere that are needed to address issues related to rapid environmental changes, including the loss of biological diversity, desertification and climate change.

We look forward to continued collaboration and progress in developing the TCO initiative.

Jacques Eckebil

Assistant Director-General

FAO, Sustainable Development Department

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