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People, plots and pixels

Chris Meyer's picture

Photo credit: Max Nepstad


If you are in a forest in Ecuador and see indigenous communities standing with an android phone, a measuring tape and a good pair of boots, don’t be surprised. These ‘indigenous forest carbon monitors’ have been trained to collect field data by measuring a 40m x 40m sample plot. They align the center of the square plot with a GPS coordinate associated with the center of a satellite footprint, and measure the diameter of the trees in the plot. Once the measurements of the trees are determined, they are sent via phone to scientists who use satellite images – and now even images available on Google Earth – to estimate the amount of carbon stored in forests.


These communities can efficiently traverse terrain that is typically inaccessible to foreign technicians. The result is better forest carbon density maps that can determine changes in the amount of forest carbon present over time.


With the cutting and burning of trees contributing to about 15% of global carbon dioxide emissions, any realistic plan to reduce global warming pollution sufficiently – and in time to avoid dangerous consequences – must rely in part on preserving tropical forests.


A critical part of ensuring that the rate of deforestation is decreasing - and the part where skeptics are most vocal - is monitoring, reporting, and verifying (MRV) the area and density of forests. The MRV process measures the amount of carbon stored in a forest, and also helps make sure that further deforestation and degradation do not occur. It also requires both modern technology and old fashioned boots on the ground.

Do we still need REDD if deforestation is decreasing in the Amazon?

Carlos A. Nobre's picture
Amazon birds -- iStockphoto
Two macaws in the Amazon.
Photo ©

Although the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen badly failed to achieve legally binding agreements, including on the specific mechanism of REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), there was nevertheless a general sense that this mechanism is something worth pursuing. Meetings and discussions continued to take place after the conference was over, and a fund of US$ 10 billion is being set up to promote initial steps for tropical developing countries to prepare for REDD.

What lessons can be learned from the Brazilian Amazon, where deforestation rates have been steadily declining for 5 years?

Compared to estimates of land-cover change emissions from elsewhere in the tropics, estimates in the Brazilian Amazon tend to be relatively more certain because they are calculated from annual, satellite-based monitoring of land cover change for over two decades for the Brazilian portion of the Amazon. That is the work of the PRODES Project carried out by the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) of Brazil. 

Deforestation in the Amazon changes a lot from year to year. The proximate causes are not totally known. They have to do with economic drivers such as prices of commodities (beef, soy, etc.), the opening of roads, but they are also influenced by the effectiveness of law enforcement to curb illegal deforestation.

The latter may have played a key role in reducing deforestation in the last 5 years. During that period, annual deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon plummeted from over 27 thousand km2 (August 2003-July 2004) to around 7 thousand km2 (August 2008-July 2009), an amazing 74% reduction over 5 years!

Carbon is the same everywhere, but carbon governance isn't..

Andrea Liverani's picture

Carbon governancethe institutional arrangements in place for mitigating greenhouse gas emissionscan vary considerably across countries. In Brazil, the financial community is actively interested in carbon trading, but Chinese banks have hardly any interest in it. In India, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) market is developed almost uniquely by domestic companies, while China relies extensively on foreign firms. And while the Chinese government takes an active interest in providing capacity to project developers, the Brazilian authorities see their role uniquely as guarantors of environmental integrity of emissions reductions projects. So, if carbon is the same everywhere, why is carbon governance so incredibly varied?

Getting on a technology pathway to avoid dangerous climate change

Alan Miller's picture
   An IFC investment helps provide clean, affordable water to underserved communities in developing countries.

Many of the measures proposed in the World Development Report (WDR) 2010 will require substantial engagement with the private sector. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has estimated that more than 80 percent of the investment required for climate change mitigation and adaptation will have to be privately financed. For this to happen, the key requirement will be meaningful targets and supportive public policies.

One area in which private initiative will be critical is in the development and dissemination of new climate friendly technology. As the advance edition of the WDR states, "Technological innovation and its associated institutional adjustments are key to managing climate change at reasonable cost. . . . Mobilizing technology and fostering innovation on an adequate scale will require that countries not only cooperate and pool their resources but also craft domestic policies that promote a supportive knowledge infrastructure and business environment."

For several reasons, an increased focus on accelerating new technology is urgently needed.

How can current and future early warning systems be used to enhance adaptive capacity to climate change?

Carlos A. Nobre's picture

Written with Paulo Nobre
Both authors are with the Center for Earth System Science, INPE, Brazil

At present, there are a number of early warning systems based on seasonal-to-interannual climate forecasts in several countries (for example, Ogalo et al., 2008). These systems are based on the use of available monitoring data and state-of-the art climate models. Both observations and model-based predictions are analyzed by climatologists to predict climate anomalies one or two seasons ahead.

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Much of the success of such short-term climate predictions is based on the ability of current climate models to predict the evolution of the coupled tropical upper ocean-atmosphere state over seasons. The best example of this is the prediction of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) episodes.

Such climate predictions have been used in an array of applications, ranging from seasonal rainfall predictions guiding agriculture, fisheries, and water resources to natural hazards and health applications (Meza and Osgood, 2008; Abawi et al., 2008; Connor et al., 2008).

Supporting Low Carbon Development: Six country cases

Jane Ebinger's picture

A year ago I was assigned from a World Bank operations team providing support to countries in Europe and Central Asia on energy, climate mitigation and adaptation to work in a Bank administered trust fund, the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP), as a thematic coordinator for energy and climate change in this program. One of my roles is to coordinate a program that is providing support to six emerging economies—Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa—that are proactively seeking to identify opportunities and related financial, technical and policy requirements to move towards a low carbon growth path.

The program has been underway for two years and individual country studies have been managed by World Bank operational teams. The governments of these countries have initiated country-specific studies to assess their goals and development priorities, in conjunction with greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation opportunities, and examine the additional costs and benefits of lower carbon growth. This requires analysis of various development pathways—policy and investment options that contribute to growth and development objectives while moderating increases in GHG emissions.