REDD+ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation

Watching forests from space

How space-based science helps FAO Forestry to facilitate REDD+ countries’ actions


By watching the forest from a different perspective, we can understand the impact forests have on our way of life.

Thomas Pesquet, an ESA astronaut, had a unique opportunity to do just that. After 196 days spent on board
of the International Space Station, the French astronaut shared his life-changing experience in a video produced in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations (FAO), raising awareness about
climate change among millions of viewers.

However, outer space does not only give us a different perspective; space-based Earth observation tools are valuable for addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation. It is a cost-effective way of obtaining unbiased and essential (remote) data on the physical world. Governments and other stakeholders use this information to understand trends, evaluate needs, and create sustainable development policies and programmes in the best interest of all countries.

Forestry is one of the sectors that increasingly relies on space-based technology. To reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, FAO’s experts work with more than 40 countries, assembling data on deforestation and forest gains and tracking changes through national satellite land monitoring systems (SLMS). These systems allow for gathering activity data, or information about forest extent which is crucial for the development of national greenhouse gas, national forestry inventories, FREL/FRL construction and eventually REDD+ results reporting. SLMS information on forest areas and area changes can also support domestic and international efforts to improve forest management. 

Bhutan, Indonesia, Liberia and Sudan are among the countries that currently use the support of FAO for the analysis of remote sensing data or the development of their national forest inventories. In November, representatives from the Forestry Development Authority of the Ministry of Agriculture of Liberia visited FAO Headquarters and worked with FAO’s experts to improve their capacity in this technical area.


Working to improve its support to countries, FAO co-operates with space-related offices and agencies around the world. In December 2017, the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE) has visited FAO headquarters to discuss the agencies’ further collaboration in the area of remote sensing.

“Developing projects with FAO is working and learning a lot at the same time, and seeing direct results and impact in the countries where we work,” said Ms Alessandra Gomes, INPE’s expert leading the Amazon Regional Center (CRA).

The collaboration between FAO and INPE started in 2009 when at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15) in Copenhagen the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding. Since the two agencies started to work side-by-side to support the set-up of national satellite monitoring systems to interested countries through the UN-REDD Programme. This important step resulted in a series of capacity-building activities lead by FAO and INPE experts and attended by representatives from Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Viet Nam and Zambia. Through the UN-REDD Programme, FAO supports the in-country implementation and operationalisation of national satellite forest monitoring systems to ensure that these systems are tailored to countries' circumstances and conditions.

FAO’s efforts to provide support based on openly-available high-quality images to governments and civil society around the world can further advance with FAO's advice for new satellite data that could be distributed through FAO’s System for Earth Observation Data Access, Analysis and Processing for Land Monitoring (SEPAL) which is specifically dedicated to provide data to scale up REDD+ activities. SEPAL, funded by the Government of Norway, is currently being used in 66 countries to produce analysis and reports for REDD+ and will soon be used by FAO for the Global Forest Resources Assessments (FRAs) to assist countries that are in the process of developing national forest statistics. 

For more information, please contact: Ms. Inge Jonckheere, Forestry Officer, FAO Forestry Department (e-mail: [email protected])

Photo credits: Amazon River, Brasil ©ESA/Copernicus Sentinel data (2017); ESA/ATG medialab

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