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Painting the world REDD: addressing scientific barriers to monitoring emissions from tropical forests

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Gregory Asner
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This paper discusses the monitoring of emissions from the REDD mechanism, stating that it can achieve both operational status and high accuracy only through innovation. The author reviews approaches from across the world that could bring learning to the international regime in designing the MRV (monitoring, reporting and verifying) mechanism for REDD+. A number of studies on national monitoring of forest carbon stocks and emissions are examined, and barriers which range from technical to scientific and from institutional to operational are identified. It is argued that while an innovative, but one-time or infrequent, mapping of forest cover or carbon stocks has been the most common scientific contribution to REDD+, this alone does not constitute an operational monitoring mechanism. It is noted that achieving both operational status and high accuracy requires innovation. For example, a portfolio of techniques and products as seen in carbon accounting models developed in Australia’s National Carbon Accounting System, which can meet the REDD+ challenge if the observational data is of high quality, high resolution, and synoptic in geographic scale. The article states that the ability to use the latest satellite and aircraft technology on a cost-effective and repeated basis is important for REDD+ monitoring. Data accessibility is also critically important, and a few countries, such as Brazil and the United States, are leading the way by providing satellite imagery.The author concludes that scientific innovation, combined with appropriate up-scaling from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, will likely prove most effective in bringing REDD+ to fruition.