GHG Fluxes from Forests

With relatively little fanfare, REDD+ “readiness” funding has enabled substantial improvements in developing country data on deforestation, with substantial investments in capacity building, including training and technology. As this working paper emphasizes, this progress must be maintained, and expanded to include better data on forest degradation, regrowth, and restoration.

The principal aims of this working paper are:

  • To clarify which forest-related emissions are (and are not) included in the national greenhouse gas inventories (GHGIs) that countries submit to the UNFCCC, and
  • To identify and explain divergences between the GHGIs and a number of independent scientific reports – including those summarized in the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report (IPCC-AR5).

The paper concludes by recommending improved transparency to compare different methodologies and better interpret the meaning of their results.

At the heart of the current confusion lies the distinction between “anthropogenic” and “non-anthropogenic” emissions and removals. On the one hand, national GHGIs, following IPCC Guidelines, employ the “managed land proxy” whereby emissions and removals that occur on lands where human interventions and practices have been applied to perform production, ecological or social functions are counted as anthropogenic, whereas emissions and removals that occur on other lands (i.e. those that national governments identify as “unmanaged”) are not reported because they are considered non-anthropogenic.

On the other hand, IPCC-AR5 considers anthropogenic fluxes to be those caused by land use and/or land cover change, or certain management regimes including harvesting and/or replanting, and identifies most removals as part of the “residual terrestrial sink.” One prominent difference that results from these two distinct approaches is that removals by intact forests within government-managed protected areas are considered anthropogenic according to IPCC Guidelines for national GHGIs, but not by IPCC-AR5.

The working paper points to opportunities for reconciling these and other technical issues that should be addressed in the aftermath of the Paris Agreement, including practical steps that can be taken for country-level reporting and global-scale assessments to enhance their contribution toward monitoring the role of forests in delivering on the promise of Paris.

The significance of these technical issues should not be under-estimated. Reducing emissions from deforestation is already the source of the single largest national, economy-wide, emission reduction to date. Forests are also responsible for removing at least 25% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.  Achieving the overall, economy-wide “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks” called for in the Paris Agreement (Article 4.1) means that the forest sector will need to contribute more emission reductions and more removals—to become a much larger net sink if the world is to move to an overall carbon balance.


Working Paper - GHG fluxes from forests: An assessment of national reporting and independent science in the context of the Paris Agreement


Policymaker Summary - GHG fluxes from forests: An assessment of national reporting and independent science in the context of the Paris Agreement

Working paper co-authored by:
S. Federici, G. Grassi, N. Harris, D. Lee, T. Neeff, J. Penman, M.J. Sanz, M. Wolosin