Over the last decade, many countries have come to recognise forests as assets that require up-to-date data to monitor status and changes over time. Nowadays, forest data has become an indispensable foundation for informed decision-making on a wide range of issues, including reporting on climate and REDD+ commitments.
Driven by this awareness, forested countries have made significant progress in developing and operationalising their National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS). Guided by the UNFCCC, the work to set up robust and sustainable NFMS has been advanced through capacity development and South-South cooperation. In addition, efforts have been made to institutionalise NFMS in order to enhance country ownership of REDD+ architecture, which is key to sustainability and transparency.
According to the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on National Forest Monitoring, the process of institutionalising an NFMS means that it is formally, firmly and permanently embedded within a country’s forest administration. Since establishing a NFMS is a long-term objective, setting up a legal basis, financial commitment and a permanent institutional framework are all important elements that will ensure efficient implementation and operation.
This is a crucial point since only a robustly institutionalised NFMS can help ensure that:
national monitoring of forests is considered a fundamental government responsibility, and there is ownership;
a clear governance structure, defining the roles of the different entities involved in a NFMS and related information systems, is adopted;
data and information are consistently collected, managed, made permanently available and analysed over time;
national expertise is retained, which is a precondition for further development and improvement of the system;
the government has a clear contact point when analysis and specific forest-related information are needed;
the expertise and experience developed is stored and creates the necessary ‘institutional memory.’
Ensuring a firmly institutionalised NFMS also addresses a number of challenges related to accessibility, data-sharing and transparency. Based on countries’ experiences to date, accessing and sharing data among institutions – either governmental or non-governmental – and within the same institution can sometimes be a difficult task. Although a single government institution may be responsible for coordinating the various components of an NFMS, various governmental and non-governmental institutions are involved in operating the system. They contribute to the forest inventory through forest mapping, planning and management, forest and land monitoring, soil carbon measurement, species identification, greenhouse gas estimations and reporting, among other things. Such institutions include ministries, state commissions and agencies, private companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), universities, regional research centres and international cooperation partners.
Concerns about distortion or misuse of data and information, lack of trust, cost-related issues, ambiguous institutional mandates and unclear legal frameworks are often at the root of data accessibility challenges. While informal solutions sometimes produce results, they are generally unreliable and unsustainable.
In addition, weak information on data-sharing systems, or lack of it, may result in duplication of efforts, which is not cost-efficient and could lead to inconsistencies. Even if data are shared, issues of format and reliability often arise, together with conflicts over how data should be used, stored and organised.
To support developing countries in moving towards a more solid institutional setting, a recently launched UN-REDD publication, “Institutionalisation of forest data: Establishing legal frameworks for sustainable forest monitoring in REDD+ countries,” provides a basis for understanding the importance of this, particularly from a legal, financial and capacity-building perspective. Developed by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), within the framework of the UN-REDD Programme, the publication provides a stepwise approach to help guide countries and institutions in the development and adoption of a legal instrument aimed at institutionalising an NFMS.
The publication offers a selection of case studies from UN-REDD partner countries adopting legal provisions to establish an NFMS. Examples include decrees in Colombia, agreements in Ecuador and Honduras and implementation of articles contained in forest laws or codes in Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru. Each case study describes significant progress made in establishing coordination mechanisms among relevant institutions to facilitate data-sharing through unique information systems, while drawing up guiding principles and harmonised methodologies to operationalise the NFMS. However, significant efforts will still be required to implement those recently adopted NFMS regulations, even if a growing number of REDD+ countries demonstrate increased capacities and concrete willingness to move in that direction.
To accompany the publication, FAO has also developed a checklist tool to assist countries in identifying relevant features that should be included in an NFMS legal instrument. To access the checklist, please go to: http://www.fao.org/3/CB3525EN/CB3525EN.pdf