Following the science for forest reference emission levels

Next steps for greenhouse gas accounting in Indonesia
Carbon Stocks Measurement and Rod Surface Elevation Table (RSET) Installation. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR-ICRAF

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If countries’ emission-reduction efforts under the Paris Agreement are to be effective, baseline emission levels must be as clear and accurate as possible. For Indonesia, which holds an outsize proportion of the world’s carbon-rich wetland ecosystems, including 23% of tropical peatlands and over a fifth of global mangrove area, it’s particularly important to get forest reference emissions levels (FREL) right.

In 2016, Indonesia submitted its first FREL to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat. While this was a laudable first effort in a novel field, UNFCCC reviewers suggested several areas for improvement, including the inclusion of emissions from peatland fires – which accounted for 27% of national emissions in 2014 – and emissions from non-CO2 greenhouse gases (GHG), such as methane. Since then, the country has made significant progress in assessing and monitoring these elements, including the use of new forms of data generation.

On 13 June 2022, the Center for International Forestry Research–World Agroforestry Center (CIFOR-ICRAF) and Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) co-hosted a national workshop to connect policymakers, practitioners, and civil society with scientists to understand the processes involved in developing and improving Indonesia’s FREL; facilitate knowledge exchange on FREL improvement with other countries in the Global South, especially those that have wetlands; and identify needs for future FREL improvement.

CIFOR principal scientist Daniel Murdiyarso set the scene by highlighting the significance of Indonesia’s leadership in developing FREL, stating that “these technical considerations will really improve the credibility of FREL in the future – and this is in high demand from many other countries.” CIFOR-ICRAF’s Director General Robert Nasi took a broader perspective, outlining the organization’s overarching aims to address the global crises related to land degradation; biodiversity loss; climate change; and sustainable food systems and value chains.

Iman Hidayat, the head of biological and environmental RO BRIN, then spoke about the moral imperative to take action to curb climate change. “We all have an obligation to work to provide a comfortable world for future generations,” he said, “so mitigation of climate change impacts to our home is our duty.” He listed a number of key elements of FREL improvement, including the use of multiple methodologies to measure changes in forest carbon at different scales; improvements in accuracy and efficiency amongst the scientific community engaged in the process; and multi-stakeholder participation to ensure just distribution of incentives to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.

Next, a number of speakers discussed key elements and changes in Indonesia’s second FREL, submitted this year. Arief Darmawan, Lecturer at Department of Forestsry, Lampung University, who has been involved in both the country’s first and second FREL reports, outlined some of these shifts. New elements that were taken into account in the 2022 report included: the enhancement of forest carbon stocks in mineral and organic soils; below-ground biomass, including leaf litter and soil organic carbon, in mangrove forests; non-CO2 emissions; emissions from forest fires; and more sophisticated uncertainty assessments. “Working with many institutions meant we needed extra time, but it also improved our insights,” he reflected. “Significant improvement has also been made in the second trial by considering new data, improved technology, and a broader scope of activities.”

CIFOR senior scientist Kristell Hergoualc’h then shared more detail on some of these improvements. She mentioned that the new FREL takes into account post-conversion land cover change in its deforestation figures. She also noted areas where further work is required, such as disaggregating soil data for different levels of degradation and deforestation, and accounting for activities such as transitions from secondary to primary forest and emission reduction from rewetting peatlands.

Oswaldo Carrillo, a freelance statistician in Mexico, next shared some insights on analyzing uncertainties in the development of FREL, including reviewing methods and assumptions, preventing bias, and quantifying and combining uncertainties in emission factors and activity data. “There are new, sophisticated, sample-based methods to reduce uncertainty of activity data, and there are also new methods to try to remove the correlation between variables, to reduce the uncertainties of emission factors,” he said. “There are also new tools in development to implement these in a more correct and comprehensive way.”

The second session of the workshop explored subnational initiatives. Djoko Hendratto, the President Director of the Indonesian Environmental Fund Management Agency, addressed the government’s steps towards achieving its goal of a net carbon sink for forest and land use by 2030 (FOLU Net Sink 2030). He also outlined regulations and financial streams, as well as institutional and human resources capacity building. Anna Tosiani, Data Analyst, Directorate of Forest Resource Inventory and Monitoring, MOEF, explained about Indonesia’s 1st and 2nd FREL submission highlighting the improvement made in 2nd FREL. Then, Rudi Syaf, the Director of Indonesian Conservation Community Warsi (WARSI), shared experiences and best practices from ground-level conservation and community development practice.

The third and final session investigated ways to reach and connect with like-minded governments and individuals across the globe. Haruni Krisnawati, a senior scientist at BRIN and the lead coordinator of the International Tropical Peatland Center (ITPC), shared some of the ITPC’s efforts to strengthen connections, knowledge exchange, and capacity building amongst governments, scientists, and civil society on tropical peatland science. These efforts include – among other things – developing a virtual knowledge platform, expert directory, and extensive advocacy network.

Michael Dougherty, CIFOR’s Communications Team Leader, took a broader perspective, exploring the importance of knowledge platforms more generally, in terms of making content on a particular topic more easily and broadly accessible, and accelerating progress by doing so. “What we’re getting is improved performance of an organization, an effort, or an activity: we enhance our decision-making, we improve our problem-solving, and we strengthen our leadership in a given area,” he said. “A lot of real efficiencies and growth is possible through these platforms.”

That’s critical for addressing the crises facing the world today, he said. “There’s a kind of multiplier effect – this is really a mechanism to achieve change at a global level. Look at what we’re talking about today: these are global issues, and we need global solutions. Engaging and supporting these kinds of networks is absolutely critical to realizing true global change.”

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