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December 8th, 2012
Experts Urge Forest Monitoring that Includes Biodiversity

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Countries need to ensure that their forest monitoring activities under REDD+ move beyond just measuring carbon emissions and changes in forest area – they should be integrated with monitoring of other forest values like biodiversity and rural social conditions, said experts on the sidelines of the UN climate talks in Doha this week.

“We’re not just talking about just a [forest monitoring] system here, we’re talking about a tool for policy development…it’s also about transparent and effective communication between the government and people,” said Jim Penman, member of the Task Force Bureau for the IPCC Greenhouse Gas Inventory Programme, during Forest Day 6.

REDD+ is a mechanism that sees money channelled to developing countries to incentivise them to adopt practices that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation — estimated to account for 11-17 percent of global emissions.

Countries taking part in REDD+ activities will be required to report on their progress using national forest monitoring systems (NFMS). Such systems use a combination of remote sensing and ground-based forest carbon inventories for estimating man-made forest-related greenhouse gas emissions and removals, forest carbon stocks and other changes in forest area (e.g. deforestation rates).

However, in their current design, forest monitoring systems are often not completely relevant for national policy development as they lack basic data on socioeconomic issues related to forest change, such as land use, rural and urban population growth and other factors that are linked with forest changes. Incorporating such information will likely see countries gain a deeper understanding of what activities are driving deforestation and how these activities are linked to other (non-forest) sectors. This will allow countries to define and prioritize REDD+ strategies, in the context of broader development objectives, such as rural development or low carbon development strategies.

To ensure the success and sustainability of national forest monitoring systems, they should be tailored to an individual country’s needs, said Maria Sanz Sanchez, team leader of the United Nations and Forest Management Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“[NFMS] can be a real domestic tool, which support not only REDD+, but other purposes as well.”

Although many countries already have some form of forest monitoring systems in place, their capacity to monitor forests often falls short of the level required to participate fully in REDD+, often because they lack the technology and training to gather required data on a sustainable, long-term basis.

A recently published CIFOR report focuses on how NFMS can be developed through a sustainable stepwise approach.  Where possible, countries should build on their existing forest monitoring frameworks and technology to develop REDD+ monitoring.

The report discusses key success factors for continuous improvement in national forest monitoring, taken from developing country experiences.

They found that good institutional arrangements, strong national commitment and leadership, and cooperation across sectors are key success factors for continuous improvements in national capacities, said Martin Herold, one of the authors of the report.

Continuous improvement cycles and learning-by-doing have been common practice in many developing countries, however they require sustained finance and continued investment in education, research and development to ensure they can continue to improve and develop NFMS.

The concept of stepwise progress and continuous improvements underpins the model applied by many countries in building a monitoring system — that it takes time to implement emissions and removals methodologies and to collect the required data consistently.

Countries should consider a ‘no regrets’ approach that allows the forest monitoring system to serve a variety of purposes beyond REDD+ and MRV. Information on wider social and environmental forest values (social safeguards, biodiversity) are useful for policy development and reporting to other environmental agreements.

However, incorporating social safeguards and biodiversity aspects will require a greater degree of coordination of forest monitoring activities and adds complexity to the system. A stepwise approach is useful here as well. Countries should use available data and experiences (e.g. on project level) on monitoring biodiversity and social safeguards for supporting targeted capacity building and continued improvements of the national forest monitoring system.

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