Back to insights
Ancient forest

Forest definitions risk carbon confusion

  • Dr Nick Atkinson
    Biodiversity Strategist
  • Dr Sadadi Ojoatre
    Research Associate
The lack of a globally agreed definition of forest and associated monitoring tools creates the potential for varying estimates of forest carbon. Different methodologies do not produce consistent differences in direction or magnitude, making comparisons of changes in forest cover and condition from one country to another difficult. In the context of arresting global deforestation and forest degradation, the lack of standardisation increases the challenges in successfully detecting change, particularly in relation to degradation. From a climate change perspective, the ability to reliably verify sovereign carbon claims is a critical element of Paris Agreement Article 6 mechanisms, yet one that is not sufficiently material. Recent debate on over-crediting risk by forest carbon projects has drawn attention to the selection of baselines and other critical information: the need to agree a standard forest definition is clearly an important aspect of this process.

Here are some key takeaways from the report

  • Forest definitions are arbitrary. The lack of an objective definition or a global standard introduces uncertainty in reporting changes in forest cover. Different forest definitions have the potential to hide loss of carbon from REDD+ projects.

  • Forest degradation and deforestation could be taking place outside the country’s gazetted forest areas, with implications for measures of carbon stocks.

  • Globally-adopted forest definitions would facilitate Article 6 markets and ITMOs: the lack of standardisation is not helpful.

A follow-up to this report entitled 'Forest definitions matter: an Indonesia and PNG case study' was published on 29 June 2023.


  • Introduction

  • What is a forest?

  • Estimating biomass and carbon stocks

  • Conclusion

Discover more

Access this in full, and many more articles, reports and insights from BeZero’s team of carbon scientists, as well as hundreds of project headline ratings, for free.

New? Register here.
Already have an account?
Log in