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Bonn - With no shortage of interested stakeholders when it comes to climate change, there is a need for transparent land-use monitoring approaches that a wide range of actors can easily use for their goals.

This is easier said than done. Measuring the success of global goals set out under the Paris Agreement, and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from individual countries, for the land-use sector requires Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) of greenhouse gas emissions from land conversion, degradation and deforestation.

Besides this, the required data aren’t only of interest to government actors in the field of climate change. Increasingly, users from civil society, the private sector, or the interested public need, and want, access to this kind of information in reliable, accessible and understandable ways.

Possibilities for connecting and mobilizing a diverse range of actors toward common standards of transparency for land-use data became the subject of discussion at a session titled ‘Transparent monitoring for climate and development goals’ at the recent Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany.

Panelists from a range of backgrounds discussed the issues plaguing independent monitoring and, more importantly, why data transparency is important in the first place.

Christopher Martius, team leader for climate change, energy and low-carbon development studies at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), introduced the session at GLF, which was the only one to cover monitoring during the Forum.

“When we did this project I found it interesting that we had many colleagues coming from the biophysical side and the monitoring side, because for them it was important to look at accuracy, complete coverage, complete data sets and so on, but we also had colleagues from the social side, as it is important to them to have transparency, equity and participation, and access to rights,” Martius said. “So I think it is interesting to put these two topics together in this session.”

   CIFOR scientist Christopher Martius addresses a packed session on transparent monitoring at the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany. CIFOR Photo/Pilar Valbuena Perez

MORE DATA, MORE PROBLEMS

The good news is that there is now an increasing amount of land-use data available online, making it accessible to stakeholders from a number of fields outside climate change mitigation. The bad news is that this data is not always easy to use, due to issues such as discrepancies between estimates found using different approaches, a lack of information on uncertainties, limited knowledge or guidance on how to use the data, and more.

In the future, even more data will become available — but again, without finding common standards on data collection and transparency, more problems will likely emerge.

To solve this problem, panelists said the key to independent monitoring and trustworthy, transparent data is not developing a specific tool or approach, but defining elements or ‘principles’ that can characterize good data and transparent monitoring.

This broad-ranging list includes authoritative, objective and unbiased data; the participation of reputable institutes; and free and open access to users. The methods and data need to be transparent, clear, accurate and consistent.

Data providers need to be responsible and accountable and be perceived as such. Definitions, methods and data sources need to be carefully chosen and clearly defined to be trusted by as many users as possible.

“Our study of transparent monitoring found that the whole process must be transparent — not only the results — for users to take up the data,” said Hannes Böttcher, a senior researcher at Öko-Institut, a co-organizer and speaker at the session.

“Maybe not only the carbon community, but other communities — such as biodiversity — can find this data useful. There is always a need for an exchange of data,” Böttcher added.

   Transparent carbon data can be used in other scientific areas, such as biodiversity. CIFOR Photo/Manuel Lopez CIFOR Photo/Manuel Lopez

GUIDELINES AND BARRIERS

Transparent monitoring is a key element for building confidence in land-use carbon results. Users want to know if they can trust the data, and confidence in the data providers is key. Yet there are still significant barriers to securing truly transparent data, including the politicization of the numbers, and the plethora of collection methods that do not match in definition, scope, accuracy and uncertainties.

Without clear guidelines, data can be interpreted in a number of ways for different purposes. Comparisons between data sets also leave a lot of room for error and doubt.

When looking at the issue through a climate change lens, cost becomes a big barrier. But researcher and panelist Julia Naime noted that cost can be spread out among the various institutions taking part in the monitoring. Meanwhile, Böttcher suggests the popularity of data sets will make it cost-effective.

“With more users, it would reduce the cost and, most importantly, ensure that the series are sustainable and are free of charge to other interested users,” he said.

   Despite the extra effort and costs associated with transparent monitoring, there are a number of benefits. CIFOR Photo/James Maiden

MONITORING WITH BENEFITS

With all of these issues, is it really worth striving toward transparent monitoring? The forum panel emphatically said yes.

“What I think is most important is having more users for the data. This reduces the costs, which is important to ensure the series is sustainable and remains free of charge for other users,” Böttcher said.

One of the biggest challenges for transparent monitoring approaches is the ability for people who are not scientific experts to interpret and use the data for their needs, making the user base potentially exponentially larger.

A proliferation of easy-to-use websites has made this task a lot easier in recent years, but much more remains to be done to put the data in the hands of those that need them, and ensure that they are used and interpreted in the right way.

Despite the great challenges to transparent monitoring, CIFOR researcher Juan Pablo Sarmiento Barletti said that from a social standpoint, the effort is made worthwhile by the fact that it has so many benefits — from increased legitimacy among stakeholders, policymakers and politicians, to the establishment of better relationships between researchers and local communities.

Importantly, it also broadens participation among communities, which can enhance both accuracy of data and feelings of ownership.

“The cost and effort is offset by the equity and other benefits gained,” Sarmiento Barletti said.

The discussion forum ‘Transparent monitoring for climate and development goals’ was co-organized by Wageningen University, the Öko-Institut and CIFOR.

For more information on this topic, please contact Christopher Martius at c.martius@cgiar.org or Veronique De Sy at niki.desy@wur.nl.
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.
This research was supported by the European Union, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), and the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).
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