GHG emissions from tropical deforestation

Independent verification of results will provide confidence that REDD+ results are real. Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) of forest carbon emissions and uptake is therefore of fundamental importance for making REDD+ viable.

The destruction of tropical rainforests releases large quantities of greenhouse gases and results in climate changes. In the international climate negotiations, Norway is working to ensure that countries with tropical rainforests can be paid for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their forestry sector through the REDD+ (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries) initiative.

In order for someone to be prepared to pay for this, these countries must have a satisfactory overview of their rainforests, and be capable of measuring changes in forest coverage and calculating the level of greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation on a country by country basis. In the climate negotiations and research circles this is called MRV. This stands for the measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of greenhouse gas emissions from forests.

MRV in the international climate negotiations

There is still some discussion in the climate negotiations about exactly what should be measured, reported and verified, but the vast majority share the view that it is about measuring deforestation and forest degradation, and the greenhouse gas emissions these cause. The three letters reflect the steps a country must take in order to be paid for its reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation:

  • Measurement – In short, this means measuring the extent of greenhouse gas emissions from forests. You also have to measure how large an area is being damaged by deforestation and forest degradation, and how much carbon is being released because of this damage. Together this information is called greenhouse gas accounts. Greenhouse gases can be released by the destruction of trees, branches and leaves above the ground, or from roots below ground and the earth the trees stood on.
  • Reporting – Once a country has carried out its measurements and calculations, the results must be reported to those who are going to pay for the reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Naturally, you have to report the results in these reports, but they also have to describe the sorts of methods and mathematical formula used in your calculations. This is necessary to ensure that the next step of the process - verification - is as good as possible.
  • Verification – In order for those who are paying for the reduced deforestation to be confident in the credibility of the results, the reports must be verified. In the verification process the methods and calculations used in the reports are thoroughly assessed by an independent third party. In addition to checking that everything adds up, those conducting the verification can provide useful advice and recommendations on how the next report can be improved.

MRV is an absolutely fundamental component of the job of putting in place an international payment mechanism for REDD+, given that one needs MRV to know how much the countries have earned through reduced greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Because of this, support for MRV has been a key part of the work on the climate and forest initiative ever since the start. Norway is one of the world's largest contributors to this work.

 

Measuring trees is one of several methods of determining the carbon content of a forest. Measuring a tree in the Amazon (Photo: CIFOR)

Norway's view of MRV in the climate negotiations

When Norway discusses MRV with other countries, it stresses two criteria in particular as being very important: REDD+ must be inclusive, and the mechanism must have environmental integrity.

By REDD+ being inclusive Norway means that REDD+ will achieve the best effects for the climate if many countries are participating in the mechanism and that one, therefore, must not stipulate such strict requirements for, for example, MRV that only a few countries can participate. Environmental integrity means that there should be no doubt that one is paying for genuine reductions in emissions. This means that one must know a good deal about deforestation and emissions. How can we manage to combine both inclusivity and environmental integrity?

 

The top level climate talks in Warsaw in 2013 resulted in a breakthrough in the negotiations on rainforests. A comprehensive regulatory framework for measures intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the destruction of forests in developing countries was adopted. The photo is from the negotiations in Warsaw and shows Minister of Climate and Environment Tine Sundhoft and Chief Climate Negotiator Aslak Brun. (Photo: Jon Berg/Ministry of Climate and Environment)

Stepwise approach

Norway and many other countries believe that the best way to do this is with the aid of what is usually called a stepwise approach to MRV and the calculation of payments. A stepwise approach means that in the early phases of the job of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation one consciously understates the results achieved. This is called the conservatism principle, and this principle is followed in, for example, Norway's climate and forest partnership with Brazil, when payments to the Amazon Fund are being calculated, and in the partnership with Guyana. One way of performing these sort of conservative calculations is to use satellite images to measure deforestation in an area and then use emission figures per hectare of deforestation that are low enough to ensure that one is not paying too much for large reductions in emissions. In this way you ensure that countries can participate in REDD+ and get paid for reductions in emissions quickly, while at the same time ensuring that one is actually getting more 'climate for the money' than one has paid for. In addition to the environmental benefits, this approach will provide a financial carrot to those countries that improve their MRV capacity, because they will be paid more for their efforts if they can prove with more precise measurements that the avoided emissions are higher.

The measurement systems must cover the entire country

Norway also argues strongly in favour of the measurement systems having to cover the entire country, and not just a small area. This makes it possible to see if the reduced deforestation in one area is simply being moved to another area of the country. In line with the stepwise approach, it may be a good idea to test the measurement system in, for example, one region or county before expanding it to cover the entire country once you know it works. Irrespective of this, it is important that over time it covers the entire country so that we can be completely sure that the deforestation is actually being reduced and not just being displaced.

Independent checks of reported results

The topics countries are discussing in the climate negotiations include which requirements will apply to countries that want to participate in REDD+, as well as the requirements for MRV. Agreement has been reached on many of the important main elements of MRV such as, for example, the stepwise approach and that countries can use both satellite images and measurements on the ground. The biggest topic that remains to be discussed is the letter 'V', i.e. verification of the greenhouse gas accounts the countries are reporting. Norway and many other countries have argued strongly in favour of thorough, independent verification processes, while some other countries think it is sufficient for the countries that participate in REDD+ to perform this quality control themselves. Norway believes that it is important for the entire mechanism's credibility that verification is an independent process.