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Carbon Monitoring Within The Congo Basin

The Congo Basin forest is the second largest contiguous moist tropical forest in the world. These forests provide essential ecosystem goods and services to local, regional, and global human populations. These ecosystems goods and services include regional climate and hydrologic cycle regulation, carbon sequestration and storage, support of livelihoods from both timber and non-timber forest products, habitat for globally significant biodiversity resources, and cultural values. Some of the non-timber resources that help to support local livelihoods include shelter, bush meat, food, medicines, tourism, and handcrafts. As regards the global climate, the most significant ecosystem service is probably the Congo Basin's carbon sequestration and storage ability.

This section provides an overview of why preserving such a potentially immense terrestrial carbon sink as the Congo Basin is important. In addition, this section provides an introduction to REDD+ and the associated ecosystem service payments for sequestration and storage, plus the current strategy to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

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REDD+ Explorer

Within the Congo Basin, a number of CARPE partners and other organizations are currently involved in carbon monitoring, forest carbon sequestration, and REDD+ related projects. The CARPE REDD+ Explorer highlights a sampling of those projects in the region.

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Climate Change and the Carbon Cycle

Atmospheric concentrations of important long-lived greenhouse gases
over the last 2,000 years. Concentration units are in parts per million
(ppm) and parts per billion (ppb).

Source: IPCC 2007 4th Assessment Report: The Physical Science Basis

Climate change is described by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as an alteration in climate that is directly or indirectly attributed to human activity, and which modifies the global atmosphere beyond the natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods. It has been accepted by the global scientific and political communities that the earth is currently undergoing a period of climate change. Data presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have shown that the 100-year (1906-2005) linear trend has been a 0.07°C (± 0.02°C) warming, while the linear trend over just the past 50 years has been 0.13°C (± 0.03°C) per decade warming, almost twice the 100-year trend (IPCC, 2007, p237).

The IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios uses a number of different emission scenarios for predicting future climate conditions. The majority of these scenarios predict a global warming of 0.2°C per decade over the next two decades. From there, predictive scenarios begin to diverge depending on different levels of human emissions and different climate models. A number of side effects of a rapidly changing climate are being revealed: reduced snow and ice extents, rising sea levels due to thermal expansion and glacial melt, ocean acidification due to CO₂ absorption, changes in precipitation patterns, more intense storm systems, longer droughts, and higher frequency of extreme temperature events.

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Deforestation and Forest Degradation

Carbon movement surrounding plants.

Source: Woods Hole Research Center

Forests are an integral part of the biological carbon cycle. As a part of the biosphere, forests act as an important reservoir for atmospheric carbon. Through the process of photosynthesis, forests absorb atmospheric CO₂, water, and sunlight to form carbohydrates. The carbon becomes locked within the plant's biomass for the life of the plant and then eventually becomes dead organic matter and soil components. 2010 estimates shows there to be more than 650 billion tons of carbon stocks stored within global forests, 44% in biomass (living plant material), 11% in dead and decaying biomass, and 45% in soils (organic carbon in mineral and organic soils) (FAO, 2010, p48).

Tropical forests are particularly important for forest carbon stocks as they contain the highest levels of biomass per hectare in the world. South America along with Western and Central Africa contain 247.4 and 248.7 tons of biomass per hectare respectively, while the global average for forest is only 149 tons per hectare (FAO, 2010, p41-42). The Western and Central African forests hold the second highest amount of biomass carbon per hectare at 116.9 tons and the second highest amount of total carbon stocks per hectare globally at 186.2 tons (FAO, 2010, p45). Within the Congo Basin's tropical forest it is the closed evergreen lowland forest that represents more than 60% of stored carbon, while only occupying 35% of the area (OFAC, 2008, p200). This highlights the importance of the tropical forests within Congo Basin in relation to carbon, specifically the immensely valuable role that the closed evergreen lowland forest plays as a regional and global carbon sink.

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REDD+ stands for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, while the plus (+) indicates the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries. REDD+ is the current UNFCCC strategy to mitigate climate change and curb global deforestation. The main objectives of this strategy are for industrialized countries to work with and financially compensate developing countries in reducing their greenhouse emissions by curbing deforestation and forest degradation within their national borders. Due to the large amount of global emissions resulting from deforestation and forest degradation, along with the projected low cost associated with reducing those emissions, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is seen as a cost effective way to reduce global greenhouse emissions within developing countries.

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Forest Cover Monitoring and MRVs

Photo courtesy of Giuseppe Molinario, CARPE

Forest cover monitoring is used to track changes occurring within the forests as a result of deforestation, forest degradation, reforestation, and afforestation. Through accurate forest cover monitoring estimates of biomass can be made, which in turn allows for estimates of above ground carbon stocks within the forests. Accurate carbon stock change measurements are also the key component of REDD+'s Monitoring, Recording, and Verification (MRV) process to determine if payments are to be made for reductions in deforestation and forest degradation.

Over large forested areas such as the Congo Basin, the use of satellite remote sensing is an integral component in forest cover monitoring. This is especially true within tropical and sub-tropical forests where having eyes on the ground year round would simply be impractical. There are two main areas of forest cover monitoring, each of which requires a different remote sensing approach. First is the monitoring of changes in forest cover, i.e. afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation (ARD activities). Second is the monitoring of forest degradation or composition changes within the current standing forest. The following section covers remote sensing techniques for forest cover monitoring and MRV's and is based on the recommendations within the GOFC-GOLD Sourcebook.

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Organizations Involved with REDD+

There are a number of organizations that support REDD+ operations throughout the globe and within the Congo Basin. These organizations are run by a mix of governments, United Nation programs, non-governmental organizations (NGO's), development banks, forest –dependent indigenous people, financial contributors, and REDD country participants. Funding for these organizations is primarily supplied through donations from developed nations and development funds through a variety of banks. Assistance is provided through a variety of funding options such as step grants, technical expertise, along with panel and peer reviews of strategy plans.

Each of these organizations assists developing nations to navigate through the REDD+ process in order to develop and implement their own national REDD+ strategies, with the ultimate goal for to nations reach the point where they can then receive result-based payments for reducing their emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

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National REDD Activities

In addition to the main REDD+ support organizations and government funded REDD+ projects there are a number of REDD+ related projects within the Congo Basin funded by a variety of sources. The Observatory for the Forest of Central Africa (OFAC) maintains a list of the active REDD+ related projects within the Congo Basin.

Additionally, the World Bank Information Center contains a number of documents related to REDD+ work within countries across the world. The Forest Carbon Portal also contains information on several projects within the Congo Basin that have carbon sequestration and community oriented benefits, but do not directly relate themselves to REDD+ initiatives.

Each of the countries where CARPE works is at a different stage in their national REDD+ strategy development and implementation. Many of the countries are working on their national REDD+ strategy with the assistance of one or more of the supporting REDD+ organizations mentioned in the above organization section. In addition to developing and implementing their national REDD+ strategy a number of countries have ongoing REDD+ pilot projects.