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Insights from Space: FAO's contributions on Forest Monitoring at IAF's first conference on climate change (GLOC 2023)


Last month, FAO was active at the International Astronautical Federation's (IAF) Global Space Conference on Climate Change (GLOC). GLOC 2023, a noteworthy event at the intersection of climate action and space sectors, took place in Oslo from 23-25 May, welcoming over 600 physical participants and thousands of online attendees.


Julian Fox, Team Leader National Forest Monitoring at FAO, actively participated in three panel discussions, contributing to high-level conversations about climate change, forest monitoring, and the use of space data. These discussions underscored FAO's critical role in addressing climate change through forest monitoring.


One of the key discussions was the use of space data by countries for measuring and reporting on REDD+ to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It was highlighted that 60 forest countries have submitted reference levels to the UNFCCC using Landsat as a primary input, with 36 also incorporating data from the Copernicus programme and many using data from NICFI Satellite Data Programme, and 21 countries have reported REDD+ results using space data. This has led to 13 billion tons of CO2 emission reductions under the UNFCCC.


However, it was noted that while progress has been made, significant gaps remain. Key challenges identified include accessibility to, and capacity for using space data to create locally relevant data, linking improved data to decision-making for impactful climate action, and ensuring the sustainability of country capacity to use space data. “Forest countries want to create their own data. They need to do this to take ownership of that data. If they don't create the data, it's very hard for them to then link it to the policies and climate actions”, said Julian Fox (FAO).


There are also new challenges emerging for space data and forest monitoring. Measuring and reporting forest degradation, despite being a significant source of emissions, continues to be problematic for many countries. Similarly, monitoring restoration using space data remains a major technical challenge. Moreover, the transition from public finance for REDD+ Results Based Payments (RBP) to engaging private finance in RBPs requires higher levels of data integrity. One innovative example is the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance (LEAF), that includes both public and private finance, using the ART/TREEs standard. Countries need to improve their activity data to meet the ART/TREEs standard, and this can only be done using space data.


A significant topic of conversation was the NICFI Satellite Data Programme, which has been a game changer for forest monitoring by providing freely available high-resolution imagery. An example of its success can be seen in Ghana, where the data and FAO's Open Foris tools were used to generate activity data that enabled the country to receive almost 5 million dollars from the World Bank's Carbon Fund for reducing emissions and enhancing carbon removals.


But while the NICFI data program has brought significant advancements, questions about its sustainability beyond the contract time horizon were raised. It is crucial to ensure this valuable resource becomes a public good, highlighting the importance of sustainable data sources and open-source solutions in forest monitoring.


The discussion focused on how the access to high resolution satellite images is not enough to protect tropical forests but its application by countries with other tools and platforms such as FAO's SEPAL is crucial to analyze and interpret this data. "Without SEPAL, many out there will have access to the data but not really have the resources to use it and to run the analytics", Rogan Dyveke, NICFI Deputy Director pointed out.


During the different sessions the AIM4Forests programme was also presented and the need to work with Indigenous people and local communities. “We need to actively engage with indigenous peoples and local communities. This is a new challenge that we're thinking about in the context of using space data. There's evidence that they are the best stewards of forests, and we need to listen to them on how space data and technical solutions can help them strengthen their stewardship role” Julian Fox (FAO) noted.


In conclusion, GLOC 2023 was the first AIF conference on the integral role of space-based services and applications in support to global climate action. The discussions and engagements reinforced the importance of forest monitoring, capacity building, and data usage in combating climate change, and was a great venue to feature the work of FAO. As we look to the future, the continuous advancement of space data usage and forest monitoring will be instrumental in our collective fight against climate change.


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