Glasgow Forest Declaration needs new modes of data ownership

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At the COP26 in November 2021 in Glasgow 141 countries signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use which recognises that land use and land management are responsible for about a quarter (23%) of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and that a successful scenario to limit global warming to 1.5 C by 2100 must not just stop deforestation by 2030 but must maintain and expand forest cover.

A successful transformation requires international-to-local actions that empower indigenous people and local communities and depend on suitable information on where and why forests are changing to define suitable policies and actions, to support implementation and enforcement on the ground, and to provide robust reporting on the progress and performance of such activities.

However, with only 8 years to go some key challenges remain that were addressed by a recent commentary in Nature Climate Change.

Make National Inventory data freely available

While open-access freely available satellite imagery - with ever increasing spatial and temporal resolution permits accurate remote monitoring of forests cover in near real time, it remains difficult to attribute longer, more gradual processes of forest regrowth, reforestation and restoration. Here National Forest Inventory commonly acquired in 5-10 year cycles is a major source. However public access is limited. The authors urge government agencies that produce taxpayer-funded NFIs to freely share geocoded plot data that address concerns from landowners including indigenous peoples and other local communities. Ensuring open access to both satellite and inventory plot data would permit anyone to assess, challenge or verify land use impacts globally and “bridge the gap” between decadal inventory cycles and (intra) annual satellite change assessments.

Involve communities

To address the scarcity of ground-based data, knowledge and expertise from indigenous peoples, local communities and others should be integrated into an inclusive global forest monitoring strategy as part of the $1.7 billion promised in Glasgow to support indigenous communities to protect and manage their land. Effective local forest governance and protection requires more than data but communities should benefit from their own observations while also contributing to new and ongoing NFIs and training data collection for remote sensing-assisted assessments

In conclusion, if the actions identified above are not well advanced in the coming months or next few years, then the ability to monitor targets set for 2030 (and beyond) will likely disappoint. International initiatives and institutes such as e.g. European Forest Information Network (EFINET), the Forest Data Partnership (FDP) and supported by e.g. ESA, NASA and World Resources Institute can coordinate swift and coordinated actions that are needed to ensure monitoring systems that can support Glasgow signatories and hold them accountable to their commitments.

EFI Director Marc Palahí is one of the authors of the commentary. He remarks: “In a rapidly changing and uncertain environment, timely, transparent and reliable forest information is crucial for the knowledge-informed and collective action that we need to put forward this decade to protect, restore and manage sustainably our global forest ecosystems. New partnerships between the Indigenous and the scientific community are needed to better monitor and understand the drivers, challenges and opportunities affecting some of the most important forest biomes in the world.”


Full reference: Nabuurs, GJ., Harris, N., Sheil, D., Palahí, M., Chirici, G., Boissière, M., Fay, C., Reiche, J., Valbuena, R. 2022.  Glasgow forest declaration needs new modes of data ownership. Nature Climate Change.

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Photo: Oleksii / AdobeStock