Boosting transparency of forest data

FAO highlights the importance of the institutionalisation of forest data for climate action


The adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 sparked the design and implementation of climate-centered projects at global, national, and even local scales. Among these projects is ‘Building global capacity to increase transparency in the forest sector (CBIT-Forest)’ a two-year project implemented by FAO. Funded by the Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency, CBIT-Forest intends to develop the institutional and technical capacities of developing countries, enabling them to meet transparency requirements outlined in Article 13 of the Paris Agreement. Global in scope, the project directly impacts 26 countries and influences an additional 187 countries and territories.

In its first year, CBIT-Forest hosted around 60 virtual workshops, shared case studies on forest and transparency, introduced the first edition of the massive open online course (MOOC) and a self-paced online course offered in collaboration with the FAO elearning Academy, both available in multiple languages. The project also launched four global series of capacity development and awareness-raising activities. The CBIT-Forest MOOC and self-paced course are the first of their kind and the only known Enhanced Transparency Framework courses available to all audiences. At present the self-paced course is offered in four languages, English, Spanish, French and Chinese with Russian and Arabic translations to be available soon.

Recently, CBIT-Forest launched the first in its series of 2021 global webinars “Forest data for climate action: the importance of legal and institutional frameworks. The event was attended by close to 300 people around the world, representing government agencies, universities, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and the private sector. The webinar saw the greatest participation from Europe, Asia, and Africa respectively, and women made up 52% of all attendees.    

Interest in this and upcoming webinars is built around different stakeholders, which include universities, international organizations and regional organizations. Adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic realities, and projects CBIT-Forest has recently focused on moving the project’s resources and initiatives completely online. With greater language accessibility and the global nature of the internet, CBIT-Forest hopes to reach a broader audience of students, researchers, practitioners, politicians, etc.

A panel of experts guided the webinar’s topics, which included the launch of the new FAO-led UN-REDD paper on “Institutionalisation of forest data: Establishing legal frameworks monitoring in REDD+ countries,” lessons learned while enhancing National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS) in Colombia and Uganda and understanding the importance of legal and institutional arrangements in the implementation of sustainable NFMS. During the session a new information note ‘Legal assessment to set up and operationalized an NFMS’ was launched in multiple language.

Representatives from Ugandan and Colombian government agencies led webinar participants through the steps each county took to develop NFMS in their respective countries. Speaking on the importance of transparency in forest data shared by Ugandan organizations, Bob Kasungu, from the Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda, detailed the care with which this data is assessed. Kasungu explained that “the data that is coming in from the different institutions should be information that ideally has been looked at not only by the people from that institution, but also by somebody independent.” Doing so guarantees the quality and accuracy of the data.

Both Kasungu, and Hector Gonzalez Rubio, of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies of Columbia, revealed challenges their countries faced while enhancing their NFMS. According to Rubio, officially incorporating all policies, actions, rules, and plans  into the national data development plan is essential to the long-term success of a NFMS. Rubio explained that Colombia must establish strict, enforceable guidelines and management criteria to ensure sustainable use of the country’s vast forests.  Although, Rubio also noted that rules and plans only work if supported by communities and local populations, saying “people need to know that forests need to be conserved but also we can use [them] in a very good way.”


Institutionalisation of forest data: Establishing legal frameworks monitoring in REDD+ countries

Publication of the FAO paper “Institutionalisation of forest data: Establishing legal frameworks monitoring in REDD+ countries,” marks an exciting new chapter of climate change mitigation within REDD+ countries. The publication was produced under the UN-REDD Programme, a collaboration between FAO, UNDP and UNEP that supports nationally led REDD+ processes and actions.

While developing countries have made significant developments to their NFMS, unclear legal frameworks and vague institutional mandates, among other factors, have left data-accessibility challenging at times.

As detailed in the paper, there are a number of reasons that institutionalisation of NFMS may streamline the collection and use of forest data. Institutionalisation of NFMS ensures that governments accept sole responsibility of monitoring national forests, data are consistently collected, managed, and analyzed, and allows for the development and retainment of national expertise, among other benefits. Included in this publication is an FAO developed checklist, directing countries in the identification of features to include in their NFMS legal frameworks.

Case studies from several countries reveal the various approaches to NFMS development and highlight the process of implementing legal instruments. Among these case studies are examples from Colombia and Uganda, mirroring those discussed in the recent webinar. Included in the paper is a figure of key elements of the legal instruments used to establish NFMS in Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Peru. This figure reveals how the FAO checklist has standardized the components of NFMS.

Why are institutional arrangements crucial to the implementation of robust NFMS?

As Julian Fox, Team Leader of National Forest Monitoring at FAO, explained “the institutionalisation of National Forest Monitoring Systems can enhance country ownership and pave the way for a sustainable and transparent use of forest data.”

Institutional mandates established by law and enforced by governing structures create a strong base for such sustainable and transparent NFMS. Providing continued legal expertise from the inception phase through implementation will strengthen NFMS design, data analysis, management, and reporting. The legal instrument establishing a NFMS should allocate responsibility for various elements of the NFMS to specific institutions, divisions, or departments. This delegation of tasks will guarantee a more efficient flow of information. Developing greater human and technical capacities further eases the collection, monitoring and analysis of forest data.

In short, institutionalization of forest data ensures National Forest Monitoring Systems will function more efficiently and effectively and remain sustainable long-term.  The need for robust NFMS has only grown in recent years as more REDD+ countries have ratified the Paris Agreement and interest in NFMS, as a tool to manage forest and land-use data, has increased globally. For these reasons, CBIT-Forest has been established to guide countries in the design and implementation of these systems.


Useful links

CBIT-Forest web page:

CBIT-Forest in numbers:

eLearning course in English, Spanish, French and Chinese

Video Forests and Transparency under the Paris Agreement:
Info note on legal assessment in English, French and Spanish

Publications: Institutionalisation of forest data: Establishing legal frameworks for sustainable forest monitoring in REDD+ countries: