National Forest Monitoring

The role of forest monitoring at the GFOI 2023 Plenary

Highlights from the AIM4Forests Programme

The GFOI 2023 Plenary, organized by the Global Forest Observations Initiative (GFOI), took place from 9–11 May 2023 at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) headquarters in Rome. The overarching theme of the event was the role of forest information in addressing climate change.

The technical work of FAO’s National Forest Monitoring Team (NFM) featured prominently across key plenary sessions, including measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) for REDD+; the Enhanced Transparency Framework; the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring (FERM) Platform; and peatland monitoring.

NFM’s work was also showcased in side events on sample-based approaches, the Inventory Software from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the SEPAL add-on for land representation, as well as the new Accelerating Innovative Monitoring for Forests (AIM4Forests) programme from FAO and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  SEPAL was also presented many times at different events, including Deforestation Alerts and the Satellite Data Program from Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI).

Additionally, two workshops preceding the plenary were successfully conducted: Estimating Emissions and Removals from Forest Degradation: A South–South Exchange and the IMPRESS Knowledge Exchange 2023. Lastly, SEPAL’s sample-based area estimation (SBAE) workshop, taking place this week (15–19 May), with representatives from Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda extending their stay in Rome to put this innovative approach into practice, in order to obtain high integrity data on land-use and forest cover change.

The AIM4Forests programme, which supported several side events during the plenary, generated great interest and excitement in the GFOI community. Here is a summary of the results of the discussions around this exciting new programme.


Accelerating Innovative Monitoring for Forests (AIM4Forests)

Many countries have submitted Forest Reference Levels to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is promising progress, but countries need to ensure that their NFMS is sustainable, and that they continue improving the integrity of their data to access new funding sources through accounting standards such as ART-TREES. AIM4Forests, launched on Earth Day this year, will support 20 countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean in strengthening their National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS) to provide high-integrity MRV. It will also strengthen the GFOI community through the development and implementation of Country Led Planning (CLP) in order to help countries  operationalize sustainable NFMS.

The programme was built on the experience of the IMPRESS project to develop an innovative global approach towards high-integrity data on forest emissions and removals to access climate finance. Kenya’s approach was instrumental in defining AIM4Forests.

“Since 2014, countries have come a long way with their MRV. Now 60 countries have reported reference levels to the UNFCCC, but not many have received results-based payments (RBP). It is challenging for countries to improve their data and remove bias to access new RBP opportunities”, said Marieke Sandker, Forestry Officer (MRV).

To achieve its goals, the programme will be guided by six interconnected outcomes, related to:

·     The enhancement of tools and platforms for forest monitoring supported by learning programmes (e.g. the SEPAL online facilitated course  launched in March 2023);

·     Overcoming MRV methodological challenges toward high-integrity data;

·     Tailored forest monitoring support to Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLC) to strengthen their stewardship role;

·     Design and implementation of Country Led Planning (CLP) by the GFOI;

·     Technical assistance to fill gaps identified through the CLP;

·     Institutional and functional assistance to NFMS to ensure sustainability.


Forest and land monitoring for climate action for and by IPLC

Forest data is the backbone of successful forest management activities, policies and practices. Furthermore, the recognition and effective engagement of IPLC is key as they are custodians of most of the world’s forests. However, IPLC have limited capacity for forest monitoring and MRV. For this reason, AIM4Forests will seek to strengthen the role of IPLC, as well as support their efforts in forest monitoring and MRV.

“70 percent of the world’s forests is on government administrated land. Most of it is claimed by Indigenous Peoples, but only 15 percent is recognized and documented”, stated Ward Aneeuw, Lead Technical Specialist from the International Land Coalition. “We have evidence that IPLC are the best guardians of the world's nature and biodiversity. Yet they get very little support from governments and funders. In the AIM4Forests programme we will have a dialogue with IPLC from the start and throughout implementation.”

FAO, the International Land Coalition and LandMark will work together to map the capacities and needs of IPLC, as well as adapt mapping and monitoring tools to their reality so they can use them autonomously. Capacity building and its link to decision-making is crucial for the programme, deploying tailored learning materials and tools, making data and open-source platforms accessible, and establishing IPLC led communities of practice.

“We need to bring IPLC to the heart of governance and decision making. There is a lot of local knowledge that is valuable for the AIM4Forests programme”, Aneeuw concluded.


The role of sample-based area estimation (SBAE) in enhancing climate change mitigation

A key method for high-integrity activity data on land-use and forest cover change is SBAE. With emerging standards such as ART-TREES requiring data sourced from SBAE to assess forest change, a side event was organized at the GFOI plenary. Current area estimation recommendations are typically achieved through a combination of sample-based data and maps. To rectify this issue and meet the needs of practitioners, as well as satisfy reporting requirements, an interpretation of a large sample is necessary, which can be achieved with tools such as SEPAL.


The way forward

Under the AIM4Forests programme, GFOI and FAO will support 20 countries through country-led planning (CLP) processes, including workshops and support throughout the next 5 years, to address country-specific technical and functional gaps in establishing an enabling environment for sustainable NFMS and MRV.

One of the first activities delivered under AIM4Forests (jointly implemented with funding from NICFI) has been the SEPAL online facilitated course, “Forest and Land Monitoring for Climate Action”, which included 2 372 registered participants from more than 150 countries. The course equipped thousands of professionals with the knowledge and skills for applying high-resolution satellite imagery using SEPAL. Delivered simultaneously in three languages, the course consisted of five modules to be completed through a learning path of choice lasting up to six weeks; participants could also earn official certification.

Brenda Anici, a Ugandan National Forest Authority (NFA) Remote Sensing Officer who participated in the course, shared how the course has been instrumental to her work and how Uganda has integrated SEPAL into its NFMS. A self-paced version of the course will be available later this year through the FAO elearning Academy.

The AIM4Forests program will continue this capacity development path, making available to countries and IPLC, technical and learning solutions for accelerating innovative monitoring of forests.


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