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The terrestrial carbon cycle is spatially and temporally extremely heterogeneous and variable due to species, climate, management and disturbance regimes. Terrestrial uptake and release of carbon are also totally decoupled in terms of temporal dynamics: release of carbon through oxidation is fast, occurring mostly through disturbances (fires, pests, harvesting, etc.), while accumulation of carbon through photosynthesis is slow and can take centuries. The terrestrial biota needs to be managed to increase carbon sequestration and help achieve mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

TCO role

In response to increasing awareness of perturbation in the global climate system and the entry into force of international environmental treaties, there is an urgent need to understand, predict and quantify the global carbon budget and its temporal and spatial behaviour. TCO’s overarching goals are to better identify the potential end users, and their requirements; organize and coordinate reliable data and information on carbon; and link the science community with potential users.

TCO considers three broad categories of information (in situ; satellite; and terrestrial ecosystem data) from the local to the regional and global scales, providing information on the spatial and temporal distribution of terrestrial carbon sources and sinks.

New TCO scope

While process understanding and prediction of future climate feedbacks and vulnerabilities associated with terrestrial carbon are the primary focus of science programmes, the new TCO mission is to focus on specific products, such as: an operational database system; validated and parameterized models; manuals, standard methodologies and related documentation; productivity estimates; and the creation of a common forum for scientists and stakeholders interested in carbon accounting.

To avoid duplication and overlaps with other monitoring programmes, TCO – in collaboration with Integrated Global Carbon Observation (IGCO) – plans to establish a post-doctoral position to work on terrestrial carbon which will be jointly supported by FAO and UNESCO, and to work in close collaboration with the Global Carbon Project (GCP).

TCO aims

1. Launch a global database for information on terrestrial carbon and non-CO2 GHG gases and their spatial and temporal breakdown.

2. Contribute to the harmonization and validation process by bridging the gap between dataoriented models and process-oriented models.

3. Test the methodological approach of carbon accounting at various spatial scales, with a specific emphasis on the regional scale, and ensure comparability amongst regions having different socio-economic and environmental contexts.

4. Identify regions where coverage is lacking and promote action to rectify these deficiencies. Regional examples should include Central and Southeast Asia, Amazonia, the Euro-Siberian region, and Africa. To this end, the CARBOAFRICA project (funded by the 6th Framework Programme of the European Union) will expand the existing flux network in the under-represented region of sub-Saharan Africa.

5. Promote the inclusion of the avoided deforestation in the framework of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto protocol.

6. Support multilateral environmental conventions, not only responding to their requests, but also providing suggestions, instruments and products useful for environmental and socio-economic purposes.

7. Provide a clearinghouse for initiatives contributing to meet the requirements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Rio Conventions.

8. Develop dissemination and capacity building, focusing mostly on the higher education sector and on methodological and institutional aspects of terrestrial carbon management.

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© FAO   ::   Global Terrestrial Observing System - GTOS   ::   15 January 2007