Carbon emissions from deforestation account for 11 percent of total global carbon emissions, double what is generated by the transportation sector. Recognizing the role forests play in climate mitigation, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) developed the framework, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), to guide forest activities that reduce emissions. Key to obtaining the necessary statistics for REDD+ accounting are robust national forest monitoring systems (NFMS) that enable countries to collect information related to land use, forestry changes and REDD+ activities. The National Forest Inventory (NFI) is one of the most critical components of the NFMS and provides information on forest carbon stocks, among other things.

Through NFIs, countries systematically collect forest data, including composition, status, stock and distribution of resources. These field measurements are essential to calculating emissions factors that enable the estimation of forest-related greenhouse gas emissions. But NFIs go beyond providing carbon stock-related information. Often, they inform on forest biodiversity, health, management and use, among other things. NFIs also allow for more accurate information on forest and emissions trends and can serve to increase data transparency, vital for making informed national policy and management decisions. Greater transparency also helps countries meet international reporting requirements, such as those outlined with the Enhanced Transparency Framework of the Paris Agreement.

Despite being a fundamental component of NFMS, NFIs are complex, and their implementation is time consuming, expensive and often requires support. FAO, as a part of the UN-REDD Programme, has helped more than 50 countries develop their NFMS, providing support in the form of technical assistance and capacity development, to countries implementing various aspects of NFMS, including NFIs. In addition to capacity-building efforts and technical support, FAO has developed supporting materials for NFMS development that strengthen country capacities and generate greater awareness of the importance of NFMS to climate action. For example, FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines on National Forest Monitoring (VGNFM), were developed to guide governmental bodies in the creation and operation of NFMS.

Most recently, FAO developed the NFI eLearning Modules, a series of lessons available for free online. The NFI modules, launched in 2021 with financial support from the CBIT-Forest project, were designed to provide users with a basic understanding of NFIs and are particularly targeted at forestry technicians and forestry students. The NFI Modules serve as a primer and offer lessons supported by real world examples. The aim of the NFI Modules is to help countries plan and prepare for the complexities and challenges associated with forest inventories. They also seek to promote the benefits of conducting NFIs and the role they play in NFMS at large. The creation of these modules supports capacity development in forest monitoring on the ground and helps demystify the technical processes associated with NFI planning and implementation.

NFIs play a significant role in monitoring and understanding changes in forest carbon stocks. Continuing to develop resources that share and promote this information will help support forest-related climate mitigation.