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National forest monitoring
Work areas

National forest monitoring

In order to protect, manage and restore forests, a country needs monitoring systems that provide accurate data on emissions.

Understanding national forest monitoring systems and REDD+

National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS) are key for protecting, managing and restoring forests. NFMS are a way of measuring progress in a country’s commitments to forest and climate action. Countries planning on engaging in REDD+ are requested to develop NFMS, as agreed in Cancun in 2010 at the16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP16).

It was internationally recognized that NFMS can monitor REDD+ activities and contribute to the process of Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV). In this way, NFMSs play an essential role in how information for national REDD+ programmes is managed and verified.

National forest monitoring systems (NFMS) are a foundation for national decision-making, monitoring the implementation and effects of forest policy actions, sustainable forest management, REDD+ and the enhanced transparency framework for action and support of the Paris Agreement under UNFCCC, through the provision of transparent, reliable, relevant, accessible and sustainable forest data.

UN-REDD and National Forest Monitoring

With regard to reporting on emissions and emissions reductions, UN-REDD advises countries to follow the guidance from the UNFCCC and the methods and approaches laid out in the guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Since its inception, the UN-REDD Programme has supported over 50 countries in the development of multipurpose national forest monitoring systems. The Programme has helped 30 countries to meet their international reporting requirements under UNFCCC and continues to support the strengthening of national forest monitoring systems to generate data to improve the quality of reporting and enhance transparency.

Over the past 10 years, the UN-REDD Programme has provided technical assistance and capacity development related to all aspects of national forest monitoring, including the development of technical and functional capacities for establishing national forest monitoring systems, forest reference emission levels or forest reference levels, satellite land monitoring systems, national forest inventories and greenhouse gas inventories.

To help practitioners to put forest monitoring systems in place, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has developed a range of supporting materials, including the Voluntary Guidelines for National Forest Monitoring and various free, open-source software tools and platforms, such as Open Foris and SEPAL.

Key UN-REDD approaches to national forest monitoring

UN-REDD strives to provide countries with the knowledge and tools they need to access cost-efficient technical solutions for enhancing the accessibility, transparency and robustness of forest data and information and to become independent in their forest-monitoring efforts and strategies. The Programme is committed to maintaining and developing innovative technical solutions and providing guidance for countries in the planning and successful realization of all the components of their national forest monitoring.

Key tools and approaches include:


National Forest Monitoring

National Forest Monitoring support under UN-REDD follows FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for National Forest Monitoring, and UNFCCC REDD+ MRV guidelines, both agreed upon by international consensus.



Assisting countries in constructing forest reference emissions levels or forest reference levels (FREL/FRL) based on the relevant UNFCCC decisions


Collaborative Open Foris initiative

The collaborative Open Foris initiative, providing free and open-source software and platforms to support multi-purpose forest inventories and cost-effective land-cover and land-use assessments, based on remote sensing and results dissemination. Open Foris can increase the efficiency, transparency and accuracy of forest and land monitoring, which is fundamental to achieving the goals under the Paris Agreement.


Building web-based geoportals

Supporting countries in building web-based geoportals, which can increase data transparency for the public and for national and international reporting


Technical expertise and tools

Providing technical expertise and tools so that countries can generate reliable data for the purpose of: supporting the formulation, monitoring and adjustment of subnational and national policies related to forests and forested landscapes; informing citizens and stakeholders about the status, characteristics and development of national forests and the services they provide; facilitating discussions and the development of agreements at the international level and submitting regular reports; providing baseline data to enable the measurement of progress towards sustainable forest management.


Capacity development interventions

Capacity development interventions, including a range of products and results: preparation of online capacity development material (including e-learning programmes and manuals), mapping of existing institutional arrangements, capacity assessment and gap analysis, greenhouse gas inventory calculations through the use of a number of software packages, and reviews of existing greenhouse gas inventories.


Accessibility of national forest management

Continually improving the accessibility and functionality of national forest management tools and platforms, in order to support the generation of accurate forest information at all scales. Innovation, communication, developing partnerships and incorporating new technologies are key to success.


Support provided by the UN-REDD Programme

Support provided by the UN-REDD Programme for developing national forest monitoring systems is fully adaptable to national needs and priorities, and national forest monitoring systems should be multipurpose and flexible to ensure their continued usefulness well into the future.


A national forest monitoring system (NFMS) is a country’s means of monitoring its forests, built on existing capacities, programmes and initiatives. Within the UN-REDD Programme, FAO provides technical support to countries in the development of their NFMS.

Changes in areas of forest including land use, carbon stocks and stock changes i.e. standing volume, forest-related greenhouse gases and removal by sinks are all being measured.

The UN-REDD Programme’s NFMS strategy is built on three pillars that support the development of NFMS under the UNFCCC. The approach is based on the methodological equation proposed by the IPCC (emissions (E) = activity data (AD) x emission factors (EF).Each element of this equation represents a pillar of work: i.) a satellite land monitoring system, ii.) a national forest inventory and a iii.) national greenhouse gas inventory.

Satellite land monitoring systems measure changes in areas of forest using remote sensing.

A national forest inventory is a means of measuring forest carbon stocks and stock changes. It allows a country to estimate anthropogenic GHG emissions and removals by sinks associated with forests because it includes field measurements that allow for estimations of the level of forest carbon stocks and changes to these.

A greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory is the third “pillar” of the UN-REDD Programme’s NFMS strategy. It is a framework for estimating and reporting GHG emissions and removals for the forest sector.

LULUCF stands for land use, land-use change and forestry. The term is often referred to because of the way in which human activities impact terrestrial sinks through activities that affect land use such as deforestation. Such activities can result in CO2 emissions to or removals from the atmosphered.

Though the UNFCCC does not explicitly specify the difference between a FREL and a FRL, the most common understanding is that a FREL includes only emissions from deforestation and degradation, whereas a FRL includes both emissions by sources and removals by sinks -- thereby also including the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

There could be several reasons for developing FREL/FRLs:

  • Countries may wish to access results-based payments under REDD+. According to UNFCCC decisions, results-based payments require a forest reference level.
  • Countries may wish to assess progress on the outcomes of the policies and measures taken to mitigate climate change in the forestry sector for domestic reasons.
  • Countries may wish to contribute to international mitigation through REDD+ actions under the UNFCCC.

In 2013, the UNFCCC Conference of Parties decided to undertake a work programme on results-based finance to help carry out REDD+ activities. In this way, the more successfully a country reduces emissions, the more it earns and the more capital it has to invest. Payment may come from a wide variety of sources: public and private, bilateral and multilateral -- including alternative sources. Under the UNFCCC, results-based payments require a technically assessed FREL/FRL.

FREL/FRLs are expressed in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Metrics such as forest loss area are not acceptable as FREL/FRLs under the UNFCCC.

As of December 2021, over 50 countries have submitted a FREL to the UNFCCC (see here for the list)

In their guidance on the construction of FREL/FRLs, the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties suggest countries can use subnational FREL/FRLs as an interim but are expected to make the transition to using national-scale FREL/FRLs.

Once a country submits a FREL/FRL to the UNFCCC it will be available on the UNFCCC website here.

Key tools or communities to link to

Recommended key documents

REDD+ Academy Learning Journals
Country document