The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that land-use change emissions (dominated by tropical deforestation) are equivalent to up to 25% of global human-induced CO2 emissions. Tropical forests are found in at least 56 countries, but the vast majority are found in just 30 (PRP, 2009), with most of these being developing countries. Commercial agriculture is the dominant driver of deforestation in the majority of developing countries, with commercial timber extraction, selective logging, fuel wood collection, and charcoal production also contributing (Kissinger et al, 2012).

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+) looks to provide financial incentives for countries to maintain and sustain forests.

In order to ensure that countries can present the significant evidence required to demonstrate the accuracy of REDD+ claims, GFOI aims to provide countries with wall-to-wall national coverages of satellite data, in addition to methods and guidance documentation that will facilitate reporting consistent with IPCC Good Practice Guidance such that countries and donors can have confidence in agreements – as well as ensuring consistency and comparability among reporting countries.

Earth Observation Data Use

The GFOI’s baseline, coordinated global data acquisition strategy involves a number of ‘core data streams’ (e.g., Landsat, Sentinel) that can be used free-of-charge for GFOI purposes. This involves systematic and sustained wall-to-wall acquisitions of forested areas globally (repeated on timescales consistent with national reporting commitments and requirements of national forest monitoring systems) and provides the default forest observation data for all countries.

These core data streams are complemented by contributing data streams – a wider range of satellite data sources, including data which is ordinarily provided on a commercial basis (e.g., RADARSAT, ALOS, TerraSAR-X/TanDEM-X, COSMO-SkyMed).

Another example of complementary products are the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) global SAR mosaics and forest/non-forest maps, produced at 25m resolution using the ALOS-1/2 and JERS-1 satellites. SAR produces images of a similar resolution to those from high-resolution optical imagers, but radars have the capability to ‘see’ through clouds, providing data on an all-weather, day/night basis. JAXA has released these products for free in order to promote the use of L-band SAR for forest monitoring applications. JAXA plans to provide annual global forest/non-forest maps generated using ALOS-2 to help the community better understand forest distributions.

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ALOS-1/2 derived forest change (2010–2015) on Borneo island. Credit: JAXA


GFOI has developed a set of methods and guidelines for estimating future carbon stocks to support countries in their effort to build national forest monitoring systems. These methods and guidelines help ensure that forest carbon assessments are credible, comparable and transparent. Its first set of methods and guidance advice is titled ‘Integrating remote sensing and ground-based observations for estimation of emissions and removals of greenhouse gases in forests: Methods and Guidance (MGD) from the Global Forest Observations Initiative’, and is now available in English, Spanish and French:

The MGD provides recommendations on establishing national measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) systems consistent with IPCC guidance and UNFCCC requirements for REDD+ reporting.

Key Issues and Results

CEOS has committed to providing global annual coverage of the world’s forests to ensure that countries have the minimum data necessary to participate in frameworks such as REDD+ or equivalent bilateral donor arrangements focused on sustaining forest cover.

The GFOI MGD ensures that countries and donors have confidence in the derived national forest maps, such that they can form the basis of reporting to the UNFCCC or donors in a way that is compliant with IPCC guidance.

Analysis, Status, and Outlook

GFOI achieved its global baseline coverage in 2016 – with at least one annual global coverage provided by the core data streams – thanks to a series of new launches and the nominal operation of existing assets.

The CEOS Space Data Coordination Group for GFOI is also investigating further historical datasets for the purpose of baseline forest map generation.

Further capacity is expected in 2017 and beyond with new launches planned, including Europe’s Sentinel-2B.

In 2016, the second version of the GFOI Methods and Guidance Documentation (MGD) was released, as well as a new online tool – REDDCompass – which guides users through the core themes, concepts and actions involved in the development of National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS) for Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV). It provides contextual links to GFOI methods and guidance, space data resources, references and tools, training materials and advances in research and development as users work through the pyramid framework.

GFOI is seeking to promote one or more end-to-end country demonstrations in 2017, which would include implementation of the MGD, the GFOI Space Data Coordination Group’s Space Data Services, and CEOS developed tools to demonstrate the potential of the framework for countries.

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MODIS Composite of Colombia