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This working paper was prepared in light of the upcoming Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in December 2007 to inform about the status and ongoing efforts in the field of forest monitoring, assessment and reporting at national and international levels.

Part I is a review of FAO’s role in providing support to developing countries seeking to enhance their capacity to monitor, assess and report on forest resources and forest carbon. It was originally prepared in response to a request from the Coalition for Rainforest Nations.

Part II presents basic requirements for national forest monitoring systems, seen in a broader policy context. The text of this section was originally prepared for an OECD conference in November 2006, and later published in the book “Forestry & Climate Change” (CAB International, 2007). This part reviews the current status in countries with respect to variables that are important for climate change reporting – forest area changes and forest carbon stock. It is concluded that in most developing countries the quality of current forest monitoring would not be satisfactory for an accounting system of carbon credits. However, it is also suggested that investment in national forest monitoring is attracting greater interest, as exemplified by the increasing number of countries requesting support from FAO.

The current emphasis on climate change issues has raised interest in forest monitoring, assessment and reporting. Forests store considerably more carbon than the atmosphere. Forests are also under pressure that leads to deforestation and forest degradation, and consequently emissions of greenhouse gases. Current estimates suggest that deforestation accounts for one fifth of human induced emissions of carbon dioxide. It is therefore no surprise that there is political interest to seek incentives to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. Within the Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) circles this has become known as REDD. At the Conference of Parties in December 2007, it is expected that countries will start negotiations towards an agreement that would provide financial incentives to developing countries to reduce deforestation and/or forest degradation.

Such an agreement would have to rest on mechanisms that allow for progress to be measured and accounted for in a way that is acceptable for all parties. Over the past years, there have been considerable efforts made to develop standards (especially by IPCC) as well as methodologies (involving the science community) for forest carbon monitoring.

Forest monitoring has, however, a much longer history. National forest inventories have been applied for the past 100 years in some countries. FAO, through its Forestry Department, has been involved in national and global forest monitoring and assessment for the past 60 years and has formal working arrangements in this area with almost all countries.

While the current focus on climate change is driving methodology developments and, to some extent, investments, the overall scope of national forest monitoring is much broader, covering social, environmental as well as economics aspects of forests and forestry. At the same time, the parameters sought for forest carbon monitoring and reporting correspond well to traditional forest management parameters, such as forest area, growing stock and removals. It is evident that the requirements for forest carbon monitoring should build on these experiences. The current emphasis on climate change issues provides opportunities for increased and improved forest monitoring and assessment, that is likely to benefit forestry at large.

This working paper carries two key messages to those engaged in monitoring of forests in relation to climate change agreements:

FAO continues to work in close collaboration with its member countries to improve forest monitoring, assessment and reporting, including helping to meet requirements for forest carbon reporting. There is a clear positive development in the interest expressed by many countries to improve the quality and detail of forest information and knowledge.

This is partly due to the focus on climate change issues, but also in recognition of the broader and considerable benefits that forests and forestry can provide for achieving overall sustainable development.

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