2 February 2023

Forest definitions risk carbon confusion

Dr Nick Atkinson

Chief Science Officer

Dr Sadadi Ojoatre

Research Associate

13 min

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. In the context of addressing climate change, 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.

Click here to download the full report

Key Takeaways:

1. 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.

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

3. 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.

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