Many countries have committed to establishing national forest monitoring and measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) systems, but lack the technical capacity to achieve their goals. As the science of forest monitoring and MRV advances, these countries face challenges identifying and implementing cost-effective tools and methods that suit their long-term needs. And while the gap between ambition and capacity is steadily shrinking, progress should be accelerated. This is where SilvaCarbon fits in.
SilvaCarbon builds capacity worldwide in measuring, monitoring, and reporting forest and terrestrial carbon. By leveraging U.S. science and technology, SilvaCarbon assists selected countries in the development of national forest monitoring and MRV systems that advance sustainable development goals and provide global benefits. As an interagency technical cooperation program of the U.S. Government, multiple agencies contribute to SilvaCarbon, including USAID, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Environmental Protection Agency.
The objective of SilvaCarbon is to assist partner countries with independently generating and using improved information related to forest and terrestrial carbon, which in turn contributes to low-emission development and climate change mitigation. This is achieved by working with technical units at national forestry, mapping, and space data institutions in tropical forested countries, where most of the world’s forest carbon is found, to identify and address key capacity gaps. SilvaCarbon provides direct technical assistance and hands-on training in forest monitoring and MRV, in close collaboration with partners such as the University of Maryland, World Resources Institute, Google Earth Engine, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and Global Forest Observations Initiative, among others.
Seeing the Forest and the Trees
There is no simple solution to the complex problem of global tree cover loss, which reached a record 29.7 million hectares in 2016. However, forest carbon monitoring is an important tool that any country can use to strengthen and expand conservation programs and improve outcomes. Forest carbon monitoring provides vital information needed to develop sound, evidence-based forest policy and management strategies.
National forest monitoring systems, another area where SilvaCarbon builds capacity, integrate data from different sources to track forest change over time, including changes in the size of forests and how much carbon they store. MRV is a key component of a national forest monitoring system which enhances transparency through tracking of national GHG emissions, climate finance flows, and impacts of climate mitigation actions. MRV systems are also required for participation in REDD+, a global mechanism that facilitates results-based payments for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. A well-designed, integrated monitoring and MRV system is capable of serving multiple objectives, including detection of illegal logging, biodiversity conservation, and reporting under international frameworks.
Countries have different needs and capacities and seek SilvaCarbon support for different reasons. Colombia, for example, has become a regional leader in forest monitoring and MRV by adopting a learn-by-doing approach. With technical assistance from SilvaCarbon and others, Colombia has developed a state-of-the-art monitoring system that consistently generates accurate, transparent information about land cover change and associated emissions. The system feeds into REDD+ and emissions reporting processes, and includes a deforestation early warning system that Colombian law enforcement agencies now use to detect and halt suspected illegal logging. Colombia’s efforts are already paying off, as the country now receives results-based payments for REDD+.
In both the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, SilvaCarbon has assisted government agencies to incorporate peatlands and wetlands into the design of their respective national forest inventories. The vast peatland complex spanning the Congo Basin was estimated to be the most carbon-rich ecosystem on earth, storing some 30 billion tons of carbon – equivalent to more than 20 years’ worth of U.S. fossil fuel emissions. By establishing robust systems for tracking these vital, previously unquantified resources, Congolese institutions are much better equipped to manage them sustainably.
The Government of Vietnam is making significant efforts to conserve and enhance its forested lands to maintain a balance with competing interests in forest production. SilvaCarbon has been working closely with several Vietnamese institutions to increase the accuracy and reliability of forest resource information, and to integrate technical approaches across institutions for greater consistency and efficiency. Vietnam is now using the U.S.-developed ALU tool to compile its national greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory for the land use sector, and recently initiated a new, enhanced forest inventory program. Vietnam is also included in the Mekong regional land cover monitoring system, a multi-country monitoring platform developed by SERVIR-Mekong in collaboration with SilvaCarbon and others.
At the global level, SilvaCarbon facilitates South-South technical exchange and knowledge transfer among countries facing similar monitoring and MRV challenges, and contributes to key tools and guidance such as Collect Earth Online and REDDcompass, which are widely used around the world.
Moses Jackson works on the Global Climate Change team at the USDA Forest Service Office of International Programs, where he supports the interagency SilvaCarbon program. Prior to joining the U.S. Forest Service in 2014, Moses worked for eight years at the intersection of research and policy with the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council. Moses also served in the Peace Corps in Honduras, where he worked with rural communities to design and develop water and sanitation systems. He holds dual master’s degrees focused on global environmental policy and natural resources and sustainable development from the American University School of International Service and the University for Peace in Costa Rica.