Reference Scenarios for Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Support of REDD: a Review of Data and Methods

Holly Gibbs
et al.

Published by
Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 3, page(s) 025011
June 11, 2008

Global climate policy initiatives are now being proposed to compensate tropical forest nations for reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). These proposals have the potential to include developing countries more actively in international greenhouse gas mitigation and to address a substantial share of the world’s emissions which come from tropical deforestation. For such a policy to be viable it must have a credible benchmark against which emissions reduction can be calculated. This benchmark, sometimes termed a baseline or reference emissions scenario, can be based directly on historical emissions or can use historical emissions as input for business as usual projections. Here, we review existing data and methods that could be used to measure historical deforestation and forest degradation reference scenarios including FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) national statistics and various remote sensing sources. The freely available and corrected global Landsat imagery for 1990, 2000 and soon to come for 2005 may be the best primary data source for most developing countries with other coarser resolution high frequency or radar data as a valuable complement for addressing problems with cloud cover and for distinguishing larger scale degradation. While sampling of imagery has been effectively useful for pan-tropical and continental estimates of deforestation, wall-to-wall (or full coverage) allows more detailed assessments for measuring national-level reference emissions. It is possible to measure historical deforestation with sufficient certainty for determining reference emissions, but there must be continued calls at the international level for making high-resolution imagery available, and for financial and technical assistance to help countries determine credible reference scenarios. The data available for past years may not be sufficient for assessing all forms of forest degradation, but new data sources will have greater potential in 2007 and after. This paper focuses only on the methods for measuring changes in forest area, but this information must be coupled with estimates of change in forest carbon stocks in order to quantify emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.