Climate Talks, COP21 - Paris, Forests

The role of forest remote sensing in climate change policy monitoring- First brief on forests and COP 21

This article is written by Daniela Gutierrez. 

Technology development and transfer has been recognised as an important element for the implementation of mitigation and adaptation actions through an article -article 7- of the current draft of the Paris agreement. Here we try to see how this article can be translated in concrete measures, through the example of forests. Being an observer at COP 21 allowed me to identify how for instance, forest remote sensing technology is related to the negotiations. Forests management is included in the UNFCCC work through the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) mechanism.  REDD+ is “a mechanism aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries”, as defined in the article 1 of the draft of the agreement.


First, what is forest remote sensing technology?

Forest remote sensing is the science of using satellite and airbone data to map and classify forested land cover and its changes. This data is helping forest analysts to better characterize forest cover, assess the effects of forest cover changes in ecosystem services and quantifying rates of deforestation and afforestation.


Picture from Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015. FAO.

During the “Supporting National Forest Monitoring with Earth Observation” side event panel on Day 4 of COP21 several developed, developing and least developed countries presented the importance of the implementation of forest monitoring and its uses. For example, Australia presented how they monitor carbon stocks and emissions with a satellite- monitored technology which main uses refer to track progress of the country’s emission reduction commitments under the UNFCCC and inform policy makers and the public.

Aditionally, the Australian Minister of Environment made a public announcement regarding the full support of his country to the REDD+ mechanisms. Morocco and Malawi also presented the current state of REDD implementation in their countries and Indonesia shared to the public the Indonesian National Carbon Accounting System- INCAs (supported by the Australian Governement) which provides a systematic and consistent approach to generating credible forest management information, inform the design of REDD+ architecture and provide input for national GHG inventories and UNFCCC reporting.

During my participation in the blue zone of the COP21, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Masanobu Shimada from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency  who explained how from his point of view forest monitoring can be used in the follow up of climate change policy decisions. He mentioned that open data from earth observations can provide information on the drivers of deforestation and to calculate the amount of carbon stocks that change from one year to another.

Although until the 4th day of the COP 21 there had not been any new announcements regarding new pacts on REDD, it is important to note the Global Forest Observation Initiative (GFOI) which is being led by Norway, Australia, US, FAO and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites. This GFOI is being advised by bodies such as the UNFCCC and the IPCC and its main components are the provision of methods and guidance to countries, coordination of satellite data supply, support nations in the developing of capacity to use earth observation data and the identification of new research areas.

From my point of view it is interesting to see the translation of a legal language of the draft  agreement into a scientific language such as forest remote sensing and then obtaining specific data which allows following the impact of the implementation of mechanisms such as REDD+. I hope the new agreement that will be signed in Paris will lead the way to recognize existing science and also to encourage the development of new research topics which inform in a better way the sustainable management of forests.

About the author: Daniela Gutierrez. Environmental engineer, Student of Environmental Management and Policy Master’s degree Lund University, volunteer researcher at resilient cities project within CliMates “Youth Visions for the future” program and delegate of CliMates in the COP21.

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