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Forest definitions matter: an Indonesia and Papua New Guinea case study

  • Dr Sadadi Ojoatre
    Forest Analyst
  • Dr Nick Atkinson
    Biodiversity Strategist
With the growing demand for transparency in the voluntary carbon market and the pending implementation of Article 6, a standard definition for forests is becoming increasingly necessary. Reliance on national definitions creates inconsistencies in forest cover estimates compared to global data. We present a case study for Indonesia and PNG, which have adopted different classification systems, to illustrate the effects on forest cover estimates.

Our findings suggest an overestimation of forest cover in national assessments when compared with globally available datasets, especially for Indonesia. Findings for Indonesia were closest to the Global Forest Watch (GFW) estimate, whereas the PNG forest cover was overestimated by the GFW model. These differences in estimates suggest a need for a global standard forest cover definition of forest, particularly with the advent of Article 6 markets.

Here are some key takeaways from the report

  • National forest definitions (land use classification) can create anomalous estimates of forest cover compared to global remotely sensed data. We use two neighbouring countries, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, as a case study.

  • We find that Indonesia's national definition overestimates actual canopy cover by approximately one-third compared to global (UN FAO) data. Conversely, Papua New Guinea's national definition provides a close estimate of the UN FAO and other global datasets, likely because of the similar definitions. 

  • Forest definitions play a major but often overlooked role in policy decisions, such as the setting of Nationally Determined Contributions, and have the potential to influence carbon credit trading under Article 6 mechanisms.


  • Introduction

  • Classification systems

  • Forest cover estimates

  • Need for a global standard forest definition

  • Sovereign carbon and the VCM

  • Conclusion

  • Sources and References

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