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Part I: FAO’s partnership with developing countries – opportunities for the REDD process

1 Background

This brief is provided (28 September 2007) to the Coalition for Rainforest Nations to inform about FAO’s work in partnership with countries to monitor, assess and report on national forest resources.

Comprehensive forest monitoring, assessment and reporting (MAR) is required for wise decision-making, to have forests and forestry significantly contribute to livelihoods, sustainable development and poverty reduction. The specific rationale for this brief is narrower and focuses on the Coalition’s efforts to incorporate certified emissions offsets related to deforestation and forest degradation within global carbon emissions markets through a negotiated agreement under the UNFCCC.

Such an agreement would have to include approaches for accounting of progress that are approved by the parties as a basis for calculating financial transactions. General and agreed standards for national forest carbon monitoring exist (e.g. IPCC). However, the implementation of forest monitoring in most developing countries is less advanced and would for the vast majority of countries not be sufficient for verifiable carbon accounting schemes (Holmgren & Marklund 2007).

FAO works actively and globally in partnership with, currently, 55 countries to improve national forest monitoring and assessment. The objective is to enrich the policy dialogue by enhancing the knowledge base, better profile forestry in mainstream politics and national accounting, and help facilitate compliance with international commitments. In 47 of these countries, of which 13 are members of the Coalition, the joint effort aims at establishing comprehensive, sophisticated, long-term and cost-efficient national forest monitoring systems on the ground. Such systems maximize the contribution of remote sensing technologies, but at the same time rely on systematic field data collection as the fundamental input.

Further, FAO, countries and partner organizations implement the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA), which is the leading international reporting process on forests and forestry. Results from the global FRA are used, e.g., in most global climate change models. The global FRA involves national institutions and expertise, and provides the acknowledged global baseline of forest resources status and trends including information on forest area changes and carbon stocks. The next global assessment (FRA 2010) will also establish a systematic global survey of forests – linked to national monitoring systems and designed to provide improved information on forest area dynamics (past and current).

This brief conveys that FAO is already an essential partner of countries in establishing forest monitoring and assessment systems, and that there are excellent opportunities to deepen these partnerships to comply with monitoring, assessment and reporting requirements under an agreement on reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

2 Improving national forest monitoring and assessment

Forestry is increasingly expected to address broader policy issues, including poverty alleviation, climate mitigation, energy supply and other fundamental issues on the development agenda. As a consequence forestry, in addition to traditional wood production and conservation objectives, needs to be mainstreamed across sectors and issues.

To meet requirements in this more complex policy environment, forest resources monitoring and assessment must evolve. In addition to traditional biophysical parameters, monitoring systems must address the full range of products and services, their management, categories of users, ownership and tenure, as well as conflicts in the use of forest resources. Monitoring of forest carbon stocks, forest degradation and forest area changes are, consequently, considered to be integral components of comprehensive forest monitoring.

FAO’s programme to support national forest monitoring and assessment (NFMA) works with countries to develop and implement forest monitoring systems that respond to these new requirements. A methodology and approach has been developed and applied in partner countries, based on the up to century-long experiences of national forest monitoring in some countries, and on state-of-the-art science.

The approach has been developed in relation to the following success parameters:



National ownership and participation

National project steering committees include wide range of stakeholders.

Long-term monitoring objective

Monitoring of changes and trends in forests and forestry is a long term prospect that normally must survive several elections and other political changes. Institutionalizing the monitoring process is therefore crucial. FAO provides a long-term commitment for its engagement with countries.

Timely results

While there must be a long-term objective to the monitoring, it is also essential that (first) results can be delivered within a reasonable timeframe to support imminent decisions and provide feedback for making methodological adjustments. One complete phase of the national monitoring should normally not take more than two years to implement.

Addressing broad policy issues

Addressing social, environmental as well as economical issues in forests and forestry requires that a large number of relevant variables are included in the monitoring and assessment design relating to, e.g., biophysical as well as socio-cultural dimensions.

Focus on impact of findings

Results must actively be fed to the policy dialogue and the debate on implications and responses must be stimulated. These tasks are considered as integral parts of the monitoring and assessment process.

Relevant data collection

The wide range and complexity of variables to cover imply (a) that systematic field data collection using statistically sound sampling is necessary, (b) that data must be recorded through measurements, observations as well as interviews, (c) that due to complexities in and overlaps between land uses, data should be collected on all land, i.e. also outside the forests, and also that non-forest parameters could be considered to find synergies through integrated land use monitoring.

Appropriate use of remote sensing

Remote sensing technologies have strengths and weaknesses. They are suitable and effective for monitoring trends in vegetation cover (if sufficient reference data from the field are provided) and can complement field data collection and enhance estimates. However, for most variables included in the monitoring and assessment, remote sensing methods can not contribute additional information. The focus and relative cost of remote sensing components must take this into consideration. The remote sensing survey approach described elsewhere in this brief attempts to find an appropriate balance.

Moderate cost

Precision requirements must be balanced with cost and timely delivery of results. The FAO approach described here prioritizes the big picture and strategic aspects of decision making. It does not give detailed information on, e.g., small ecosystems. This keeps the cost at a moderate level.

International cooperation

Enhanced country – country collaboration and exchanges stimulates the monitoring process in many ways. FAO has a role to facilitate such collaboration over the long term.

More details on the methodology and approach to improve national forest monitoring and assessment are available at .

Current collaboration with countries, focusing on Coalition countries is described in Appendix 1.

Sample grid


Field measurements


Interview with stakeholders


Figure 1. Illustration of methodology components for national forest monitoring and assessment

3 Global forest resources assessments and international forest reporting

FAO, at the request of its Member Countries, has carried out global forest resources assessments at 5 to 10 year intervals since 1946. The latest assessment (FRA 2005) covered 229 countries and territories and involved more than 800 people – including officially nominated national correspondents and their teams in 172 countries. The process is guided by an external Advisory Group, a series of Expert Consultations and by FAO Member Countries through statutory bodies including the Committee on Forestry and the Regional Forestry Commissions.

The FRA reports are the main authoritative source of global data on forest resources, and are widely used by countries and international organizations and processes for policy development and implementation. In particular, FRA data are used for monitoring progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, by the international environmental conventions (The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)) and by the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO).

The well-established FRA process provides two specific opportunities for improving the availability and quality of data related to forest carbon stocks in compliance with existing requirements under the UNFCCC and in support of the REDD process:

Increasing the capacity for forest reporting using existing information

Strengthening the capacity in developing countries forms an integral part of the country reporting process of the Global Forest Resources Assessment and the network of national correspondents worked in close collaboration with FAO staff to finalise their country reports for FRA 2005. Detailed guidelines, specifications and reporting formats for analyzing and reporting information on forest resources were prepared in English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian and were disseminated to all national correspondents.

Three training workshops were held prior to the launch of FRA 2005 involving 122 national correspondents and eight (sub-) regional workshops were held to review draft country reports with a total of 133 national correspondents participating in these. As part of these workshops, country representatives shared experiences and discussed how to make the best use of existing information sources and how to best present the results of such analysis covering a broad variety of priority topics related to the status and trends of forest resources, their condition, management, uses and users. Specific topics related to REDD include forest area, growing stock, biomass and carbon stocks. The IPCC Good Practice Guidance was used for reporting on all forest carbon stocks.

The training as well as the comprehensive review and quality control of the draft reports undertaken by FAO staff and consultants in the regional workshops and through regular correspondence allowed for discussions on data sources and their reliability, on how to analyze and present data, what assumptions can be reasonably made to provide the best reliable estimate when information is incomplete etc. and resulted in substantial increases in capacities for forest carbon monitoring and reporting in many developing countries. An analysis of data availability and quality for various parameters including forest carbon was also prepared and included in the main report of FRA 2005 (FAO, 2006), which is available at

Plans for the next assessment (FRA 2010) are currently well underway and will follow the same general approach as used for FRA 2005 for the country reporting process. The formal launch of FRA 2010 will take place during a global training workshop in March 2008 with regional workshops scheduled for later that year and early 2009. The main report is scheduled for release in late 2010.

Determining historical trends of deforestation and establishing a common framework and methodology for future monitoring

Estimating changes in forest area where a national forest monitoring system is not in place, or where it has only been installed recently, is a great challenge since past inventories, where existing, may have used different definitions and methodologies and may only provide information on the net change in forest area and not on the deforestation rate1. Fortunately, worldwide coverage of satellite imagery is available starting from the mid 1970s and this can help determine the historical, or baseline, trends in deforestation.

As part of the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, FAO and its member countries and partners will undertake a global remote sensing survey of forests. This survey is aimed at substantially improving the knowledge on land use change dynamics over time, including deforestation, afforestation and natural expansion of forests. Building on the large existing network of national correspondents and other contacts and using a participatory process, the capacities of developing countries to determine historical rates of deforestation and monitoring current and future rates using a common framework and agreed methodology will be considerably strengthened.

A systematic sampling design will be used based on each longitude and latitude intersect and will cover the whole land surface of the Earth – or about 13,500 sample sites. The area covered at each sample site is 10 km x 10 km, providing a sampling intensity of about 1 percent of the global land surface. This grid of sample plots is the same as used for the national forest assessments supported by FAO (see above) and by many national forest inventory programmes.

For each sample plot, four Landsat images - dating from around 1975, 1990, 2000 and 2005 -will be interpreted and classified and a change matrix prepared providing quantitative information on the magnitude of different land use change processes.

To facilitate this ambitious task, FAO and its partner organizations will make rectified and pre-processed imagery available through an on-line information gateway and develop training materials and tools to aid the interpretation process. The interpretation of the imagery and the development of the change matrices will be undertaken by national teams thus making the best use of local knowledge (including information from existing and past national forest assessments and inventories) and facilitating transfer of technology and capacity building in mapping, monitoring, reporting and inventory techniques, where needed, through a series of regional training workshops. This initiative is expected to form a pilot for the establishment or strengthening of national remote sensing based forest and land use monitoring systems in many developing countries. It will be possible for larger countries to derive statistically valid estimates of past and current deforestation rates at the national level as part of this survey should they so wish. For smaller countries, the costs of providing additional pre-processed imagery to enable the generation of statistically valid national level estimates will be marginal. A process to meet such demands will be in place in 2008.

The expected duration is 4 years starting in mid 2007. Refer to Appendix 2 for further details.


4 Opportunities for future collaboration with countries

At a general level, the table below summarizes information requirements under an anticipated REDD agreement, and how FAO’s collaboration with countries, as outlined in this brief, fits in.

Information requirement

Suitable approach

Link to FAO’s collaboration with countries

Past deforestation rates (land use/forest area dynamics)

Remote sensing with strong involvement of local expertise and/or field data.

FRA 2010 remote sensing survey framework, adapted for national application, e.g. within a NFMA project.

Current and future deforestation rates (land use/forest area dynamics)

Field based national inventories combined with remote sensing.

NFMA combined with FRA remote sensing survey approach.

State and trends of Biomass and Carbon stocks (forest degradation/improvement)

Field based national inventories (systematic field measurements is an absolute requirement).

The NFMA approach provides this information.

International, peer reviewed reporting

Active support to national expertise in producing quality controlled reports.

The global FRA process generates such reports for all countries.

There are, conclusively, a number of areas where FAO’s collaboration and partnership with Coalition countries (as well as with other FAO Member Countries) can strengthen countries in complying with international commitments, particularly those related to UNFCCC and REDD. These include:

FAO stands ready to discuss with the Coalition and its members on further actions and initiatives to take in the field of forest monitoring, assessment and reporting.

5 References

FAO. 2006. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005 – Progress towards sustainable forest management. FAO Forestry paper 147.

FAO. 2007a. Global Forest Resources Assessment.

FAO. 2007b. Support to National Forest Assessments.

Holmgren, P. & Marklund, L. 2007. National Forest Monitoring Systems – purposes, options and status. In: Forestry and Climate Change – A Sector Response. CABI Publishing

1 The net change in forest area is calculated as the difference in forest area between two points in time and represents a combination of changes due to deforestation, afforestation and natural expansion of forests.

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