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Successful South-South exchange between Latin American countries on forest degradation monitoring

Blog | Mon, 18 Dec, 2023 · 7 min read

Experts from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, and Peru met in the   Amazon city of Florencia (Colombia)

Forest degradation generates large carbon emissions (34% of forest sector emissions, FAO 2020). Preventing forest degradation reduces emissions while safeguarding forest ecosystem health and maximizes forest productivity to community livelihoods and the broader economy. Estimating carbon emissions and removals from forest degradation is thus a requirement to participate in new climate finance opportunities.

UN-REDD Programme with the technical support from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization  (FAO) and the SilvaCarbon program - Latin America and the Caribbean region,  brought together 23 forest monitoring specialists from seven Latin American countries and multilateral organizations in November 14-17, to hold a South-South exchange of experiences on forest degradation monitoring.

The event also engaged Colombian officials from the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, and the World Bank

Defining forest degradation is crucial to ensure reliable estimates

Achieving an operationally viable definition of “forest degradation” was a central theme of the discussions during the exchange. The main challenge here is that monitoring forest degradation involves quantifying  emissions and removals. Emissions occur mainly due to the biomass loss from the removed trees or dead organic matter. However, if land remains forested, albeit degraded, removals -meaning carbon removed from the atmosphere - occur by recovering biomass through natural regeneration over a certain time. The historical forest monitoring to measure loss or gain is meticulous,  considering that the recovery time may vary from  humid to dry or mountain forests.


Ó Jorge Armijos


Most participating countries have made progress in developing definitions of forest degradation. An example of an operational definition is the detection of tree cover loss in forests that remain forested during the period analyzed.The decrease in tree coverage must be associated with the tree biomass loss, which translates into emissions due to degradation. This approach does not detect the causes of biomass loss, for example, forest fires, logging, or unsustainable firewood consumption.

Free access to satellite images ensures continuous monitoring of forest degradation

The biggest challenge for countries is to detect forest degradation at a national scale, as it requires access to high-resolution satellite images. In recent years, access to remote sensing data has been made available for free. In the early 2000s, medium-resolution Landsat images (30 meters) were made freely available. In 2014, access to the first images of the SENTINEL (10 meters) family was released, and since 2016 tropical countries gained access to Planet images (<5 meters), thanks to the collaboration of the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) facilitated by FAO. Given these opportunities, the countries are working on solutions to manage historical time series with different spatial and temporal resolutions. But beyond this, countries find it risky to adopt a methodology with higher resolution images, in the event free access is subsequently lost.


Systematic field-based measurements are essential to improve the mapping algorithms and  interpretation of forest degradation using satellite images. Data from national forest inventory with permanent plots are necessary to calculate the emission and removals factors for forest carbon gains and losses. During the meeting, the challenges of integrating field data with remote sensing were discussed. Participants visited the forest at El Timi community, with the aim of validating the interpretation of a degraded forest using combined FAO tools from SEPAL and Collect Earth Online. Due to the importance of ground data in improving estimates of forest degradation, countries hope to overcome financial and institutional barriers to maintaining continuous measurement cycles for National Forest Inventories.



El Timi community is exemplary for its forest protection and recovery project, aimed at ensuring access to water.


Although countries have made progress in defining and measuring forest degradation,  challenges remain in generating information on a regular basis. The next steps of this exchange will be to explore virtual training on specific topics, such as the estimation of uncertainties, and communicating meeting results to decision-makers and donors.

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