Unlocking the carbon storage potential of forests through better data

UN-led effort helps developing nations improve forest monitoring and management to counter climate change

19 October 2018, Rome - A UN program that is helping developing countries cut greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation has scored a number of successes by boosting their forest monitoring capacities, a new assessment says.

Technical support from FAO provided through the UN Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) has helped countries make significant advances in their national forest monitoring systems, allowing them to collect an unprecedented wealth of data on forests and generate detailed maps, statistics and studies on forest-use that were not possible previously, the assessment reports.*

For example, thanks to advances in their forest monitoring capacity, some 34 governments have now been able to submit critical baseline data on forest carbon stores and forest-related greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). (Together, those 34 countries account for 1.4 billion hectares of forests — 36 percent of the planet's forest area.)

Such data is an essential basis for developing countries to become eligible for payments in exchange for having reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation under the UNFCC's REDD+ scheme.

FAO, the UN Development Programme and UN Environment established their UN-REDD program in 2008 to support countries wishing to participate in that scheme.

The UN-REDD partnership is now marking 10 years of work, having collaborated with 64 countries on climate- and forest-related goals so far.

In addition to gains in monitoring and reporting capacities like those examined in the new assessment, the program has helped some 30 countries formulate national REDD+ strategies or action plans, has supported 40 countries in developing their national forest monitoring systems, and has assisted 15 countries in drawing up national approaches to meeting UNFCCC requirements for social and environmental safeguards.

Vast potential to store carbon

Tropical deforestation and forest degradation through agricultural expansion, conversion to pastureland, destructive logging, forest fires, and other causes accounts for 11 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Conversely, afforestation, sustainable forest management and reducing deforestation are making forests one of the most cost-effective and immediate solutions to curb climate change.

"Forests and their ability to store vast amounts of carbon in their trees, undergrowth, and soils represent perhaps our biggest and most promising tool for confronting climate change. But to use that tool fully we need to have effective, comprehensive, and trusted systems in place for monitoring and reporting on what is happening in our forests," according to Tiina Vahanen, who coordinates FAO's work related to REDD+.

Progress must be sustained

"This report shows what kind of progress is possible, but it also highlights the need to make sure that support is sustained and ongoing," said Vahanen. "With continued investment and sustained technical support, REDD+ can create a win-win for forests and other land-uses, and a major contribution to the Paris Agreement, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda," she added.

The new assessment was launched at the most recent of the UN-REDD Executive Board, hosted by FAO in Rome. The Board approved new funding to nine countries: Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, Myanmar, Peru, Republic of the Congo, Viet Nam and Zambia.

* Note to editors: The new assessment looked at just 16 of the 64 countries which have benefited from UN-REDD support to date. They are: Cambodia, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Indonesia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Nigeria, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, the Republic of the Congo, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Viet Nam and Zambia.

Photo: ©FAO/R. Heinrich
Forests are capable of keeping massive amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere.