Features & Commentary
MRV and Monitoring for REDD+ Implementation
Peter Holmgren, Director of Climate, Energy and Tenure Division and UN-REDD Programme Coordinator at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), explains the challenges ahead and key steps when it comes to setting-up a national monitoring system for REDD+.
Never before has there been so much interest in forest monitoring. For many years, forest inventory experts have mostly worked without much recognition or wider interest in their achievements. Measuring trees or designing complex sampling schemes have simply never been in the mainstream. But REDD+ is changing all this.
One of the fundamental challenges of REDD+ is that developing countries must establish robust and transparent forest monitoring systems. Otherwise they risk standing on the side of the REDD+ mechanism, or to cut less attractive deals for their REDD+ efforts, because results from mitigation activities will be less reliable.
Figures vary, but it is clear that REDD+ may bring considerable payments to developing countries, perhaps over US$ 100 billion per year. So the new interest in forest monitoring is easy to understand. Responding to this increased interest, the UN-REDD Programme has invested about 40per cent ( US$ 25 million) of approved funds so far in Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) and Monitoring, making this the Programme’s largest work area.
What to monitor?
The most commonly debated subject is MRV of forest carbon. That is, how can we reliably account for the amount of forest carbon, including changes over time? This is of course the core monitoring challenge in REDD+, well defined in Green House Gas (GHG) reporting standards and IPCC guidelines, and addressing the direct objective of REDD+. The main focus is on the national level reporting to the convention, and the subsequent, anticipated accounting of valuable carbon credits for the country as a whole.
It is worth noting that the five types of mitigation activities that are defined under REDD+ means that all forests may be included and therefore will need to be monitored for REDD+ reporting. Further, the monitoring approach must be designed to capture deforestation processes (obvious and rapid forest changes), as well as gradual changes related to forest degradation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
But MRV and Monitoring for REDD+ is about much more than carbon. Why? Simply put because forest resources have many other values beyond carbon credits. REDD+ can not be implemented in isolation from these other values because the mitigation activities will inevitably affect other products and services. Often we expect synergies between, say, reduced emissions from deforestation and improved conservation of biological diversity. But there may also be trade-offs, for example between income from forest products and income from REDD+ actions. The bottom line is that monitoring efforts must generate information that help policies and forest management navigate between multiple objectives and maximization of total benefits, one of which is REDD+ payments.
Monitoring must also address governance aspects. There is widespread concern that REDD+ activities may inappropriately impact Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The anticipated large financial transfers will also challenge transaction systems and accountability at all levels. Robust and transparent monitoring of governance safeguards is therefore an essential component in the monitoring framework.
|Figure 1. Framework of MRV and Monitoring for REDD+
How to monitor?
Information requirements are different between strategic levels, where information is needed for national policies and international reporting, and operational levels where local actions by individual land owners and stakeholders are to be verified and accounted for.
Strategic level information needs to have high accuracy, and must build on high-quality (and therefore expensive) individual measurements. But on the other hand, information is not needed for every piece of land to meet the strategic level requirements. As a consequence, strategic information is mostly generated through representative samples of relatively expensive measurements. Within forest monitoring this is called a “national forest inventory”, a concept that has been around for one hundred years and that can easily be adapted to meet REDD+ requirements.
Operational level information, on the other hand, needs to include all land to enable local implementation of policies and payment systems. For cost reasons, the accuracy requirements are therefore usually lower. One approach relevant to REDD+ is to use full cover remote sensing monitoring, as exemplified by the INPE/Prodes system for registering changes in the Amazon forest cover.
All of these MRV and Monitoring considerations can be summarized in a framework to help understand the scope of the challenge (see Figure 1).
As we move forward with the implementation of MRV and Monitoring for REDD+, it is important to keep the focus on getting the job done and not get lost in negotiation results and conceptual discussions. Key steps to consider when setting up a national monitoring system for REDD+ include:
- Developing synergies with other monitoring needs. Clearly, it will be more cost-effective and robust to build on existing arrangements. Developing institutions and activities specifically for REDD+ monitoring is not recommended;
- Establishing long term and clear institutional arrangements, roles and responsibilities. This may require supporting legislation.
- Engaging stakeholders in developing and implementing the monitoring system, ensuring transparency and access to data and information
Drawing from international collaboration and expertise. The subject is highly specialized and the capacity is limited even globally. There are also several actions that are more efficient at regional or global level, such as training, methodology development and remote sensing data supply.
Peter Holmgren is the Director of the Climate, Energy and Land Tenure division of FAO, and FAO coordinator for the UN-REDD Programme. He is based at FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy.