National Forest Monitoring Systems for REDD+ and Forest Reference Emission Levels/Forest Reference Levels (FREL/FRL)


Monitoring and measurement, reporting and verification

In order to avoid, reduce and capture forest carbon emissions, any country planning to carry out REDD+ activities effectively must have monitoring systems that provide accurate data on emissions. Monitoring, and measurement, reporting and verification (M&MRV) for REDD+ is a way of addressing a country’s commitments to collecting and sharing this information.

Countries planning to carry out REDD+ are also requested to develop national forest monitoring systems (NFMS), as agreed in Cancun in 2010 at the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC-COP16). It was recognized that NFMS can both monitor REDD+ activities as well as play an MRV role in their implementation. Indeed, NFMSs play an essential role in how information for national REDD+ programmes is managed.

Pillars of national forest monitoring systems

The “monitoring” function of NFMS allows countries to assess a broad range of forest information, including in the context of REDD+. The ‘MRV’ function for REDD+ refers to the estimation and international reporting of forest emissions and removals.

The monitoring function can be defined depending on national circumstances. Meanwhile, the MRV function will imply three main components/pillars:

  • A greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory provides a framework for estimating and reporting GHG emissions and removals for the forest sector.

  • A satellite land monitoring system (SLMS) enables the collection of data on land use and forest area change, as a result of human activities, through remote sensing.

  • A National forest inventory (NFI), under the UN-REDD NFMS strategy, is considered a tool for the field measurement of forest carbon stocks and stock changes as part of the MRV function of the NFMS.

Countries carry out REDD+ through three phases, in accordance to Decision 1/CP.16, in which the NFMS must be developed through three pillars:

1) Readiness
2) Result‐based demonstration
3) Result‐based actions

M&MRV is one of the largest areas of work of the UN-REDD Programme. Technical and institutional capacity building are keys to developing strong nationally owned forest monitoring systems. The UN-REDD Programme, through its collaborating UN agency FAO, provides technical support to countries, particularly in the development of credible and cost-effective NFMSs. Countries are also assisted to develop their forest reference emissions levels/forest reference levels (FREL/FRL).According to the UNFCCC, these benchmarks must be established in order to assess a country’s performance in carrying out REDD+ activities.


Forest reference emission levels and/or forest reference levels

 One of the elements countries need to develop to participate in REDD+ is a FREL/FRL. The UNFCCC has defined FREL/FRLsas benchmarks for assessing each country’s performance in implementing REDD+ activities and mitigating climate change through actions related to their forests.

To date, the UNFCCC-COP has agreed on four decisions related to FREL/FRLs for REDD+, providing guidance for developing countries on 1) modalities for FREL/FRLs, including guidelines for submission of information; and 2) on the technical assessment of FREL/FRL submissions.

Key points in these decisions made on the scale, scope and other requirements for the construction of FREL/FRLs suggest they should:

  • Be expressed in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. In other words, other metrics such as forest loss area are not acceptable as FREL/FRLs under the UNFCCC.

  • Maintain consistency with national GHG inventories. Countries should not be using incompatible data, land cover maps, etc. for the development of FREL/FRLs. If the forest definition used for the FREL/FRL construction is different to the one used in the national GHG inventory, an explanation should be provided as to why and how this is the case. Consistency with national GHG inventories also means using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change guidelines as a basis for estimating forest-related GHG emissions by sources and removals by sinks, forest carbon stocks, forest area and forest area changes.

  • Be established transparently, providing information and rationale on FREL/FRL development. Countries are expected to submit information on data used for developing the FREL/FRL, including historic data and details on national circumstances. If adjusted they should submit details on how national circumstances were considered. The description of data sets, approaches, methods and models, if applicable, and assumptions, descriptions of relevant policies and plans as appropriate, should be transparent, complete, consistent and accurate.

  • Allow for a step-wise approach. The decision enables developing countries to improve FREL/FRLs over time by incorporating better data, improved methodologies and, where appropriate, additional pools. It also suggests that countries update their FREL/FRLs periodically to take into account new knowledge, trends or any changes to scope and methodologies.

  • Allow for the use of subnational FREL/FRLs as an interim measure. Countries using subnational FREL/FRLs as an interim measure are expected to make the transition to national FREL/FRL.


Land Monitoring Systems (LMS)

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FAQs about National Forest Monitoring Systems for REDD+ and Forest Reference Emission Levels/Forest Reference Levels (FREL/FRL)

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National Forest Monitoring Systems for REDD+ and Forest Reference Emission Levels/Forest Reference Levels (FREL/FRL)
What is M & MRV?

“M” is for monitoring and is included because of the need for periodic monitoring of REDD+ activities and national policies, as stated in Article 4.2 of the UNFCCC. MRV stands for measurement, reporting and verification. It can be interpreted as the means to address countries’ commitments to collecting and sharing information on the progress of UNFCCC Parties’ commitments to article 4.1 (a) of the UNFCCC.

What is being measured?

Changes in areas of forest including land use, carbon stocks and stock changes i.e. standing volume, forest-related greenhouse gases and removal by sinks are all being measured.

What is a national forest monitoring system?

A national forest monitoring system (NFMS) is a country’s means of monitoring its forests and is built on existing capacities, programmes and initiatives. Within the UN-REDD Programme, FAO provides technical support to countries in the development of their NFMS.

What are the three components or “pillars” of a NFMS?

The UN-REDD Programme’s NFMS strategy is built on three pillars that support the development of NFMS under the UNFCCC. The approach is based on the methodological equation proposed by the IPCC (emissions (E) = activity data (AD) x emission factors (EF).Each element of this equation represents a pillar of work: i.) a satellite land monitoring system, ii.)a national forest inventory and a iii.) national greenhouse gas inventory.

What is a satellite land monitoring system?

Satellite land monitoring systems measure changes in areas of forest using remote sensing.

What is an national forest inventory?

A national forest inventory is a tool for measuring forest carbon stocks and stock changes within the MRV function of a NFMS. It allows a country to estimate anthropogenic GHG emissions and removals by sinks associated with forests because it includes field measurements that allow for estimations of the level of forest carbon stocks and changes to these.

What is a greenhouse gas inventory?

A greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory is the third “pillar” of the UN-REDD Programme’s NFMS strategy. It is a framework for estimating and reporting GHG emissions and removals for the forest sector.

What is LULUCF?

LULUCF stands for land use, land-use change and forestry. The term is often referred to because of the way in which human activities impact terrestrial sinks through LULUCF activities. As a result, the exchange of CO2 (carbon cycle) between the terrestrial biosphere system and the atmosphere is altered.

What is the difference between a forest reference emission level and a forest reference level?

Though the UNFCCC does not explicitly specify the difference between a FREL and a FRL, the most common understanding is that a FREL includes only emissions from deforestation and degradation, whereas a FRL includes both emissions by sources and removals by sinks -- thereby also including the enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Why would countries want to develop FREL/FRLs?

There could be several reasons for developing FREL/FRLs:

  • Countries may wish to access results-based payments. According to UNFCCC decisions, results-based payments require a forest reference level.
  • Countries may wish to assess progress on the outcomes of the policies and measures taken to mitigate climate change in the forestry sector for domestic reasons.
  • Countries may wish to contribute to international mitigation through REDD+ actions under the UNFCCC.
What are results-based payments?

In 2013, the UNFCCC Conference of Parties decided to undertake a work programme on results-based finance to help carry out REDD+ activities. In this way, the more successfully a country reduces emissions, the more it earns and the more capital it has to invest. Payment may come from a wide variety of sources: public and private, bilateral and multilateral -- including alternative sources. Under the UNFCCC, results-based payments require a technically assessed FREL/FRL.

How is the measurement of FREL/FRLs expressed?

FREL/FRLs are expressed in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Metrics such as forest loss area are not acceptable as FREL/FRLs under the UNFCCC.

Which countries have submitted a FREL under the UNFCCC?

As of December 2014, Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Indonesia, Malaysia and Mexico are the only countries that have submitted a FREL to the UNFCCC.

Can countries use sub-national FREL/FRLs to assess a country’s performance in implementing REDD+ activities?

In their guidance on the construction of FREL/FRLs, the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties suggest countries can use subnational FREL/FRLs as an interim but are expected to make the transition to using national FREL/FRLs.

Where can I find information on FREL/FRLs submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat?

Once a country submits a FREL/FRL to the UNFCCC it will be available on the UNFCCC website.

Key Contacts

Ms. Denise Martínez
Communication Officer, Climate, Energy and Tenure Division at FAO, Food and Agriculture Organizaton of the United Nations (FAO)

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