A new forestry mapping technology by the University of Edinburgh could provide the most detailed analysis of the carbon content of trees to date, taking away one of the barriers to private investment in REDD.
Under the UN-REDD programme, developing countries are paid to protect their forests and reduce emissions from deforestation. In order to receive the money they are required to report the condition and carbon content of their forests.
Currently 31 per cent of the globe is made up of forests and in 2005 an estimated 638 Gt of carbon was stored within them. But at the current rate of deforestation, a football pitch worth of trees is lost every second, releasing carbon into the atmosphere – accounting for up to 20 per cent of global emissions.
The new technology, developed by Carbomap – a spin-off company at the University of Edinburgh, uses a Multi-Spectral Canopy Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) system to measure forest properties, and track the carbon stored within them.
LiDAR systems work by sending a pulse – or a series of pulses – down into the forest canopy, measuring the time it takes for them to return. As the pulse penetrates the forest different proportions of it are sent back, and this information can be used to build a 3D image of the forest.
Multi-spectral LiDAR – used in the Carbomap system – has four wavelengths opposed to one in traditional LiDAR systems. These wavelengths are specifically selected to better map the forest; differentiating timber from leaf and tree from animals or birds and giving a much more accurate calculation of stored carbon.
Dr Genevieve Patenaude from the University of Edinburgh told RTCC: “We can use that information to say ‘actually you have this much timber and that much leaf’. All of these components hold different amounts of carbon and have a different proportion to play in the carbon calculation.”
A nested approach is expected for REDD, where individual groups of forests are grouped together depending on the country or region – so while individual communities could not afford the new technology – the responsibility of tracking carbon would be on governments of countries involved.
This technology is relevant as a major problem facing REDD is lack of funding.
Currently forestry makes up on a tiny proportion of the global carbon markets – although it accounts for around half of the voluntary market.
Many investors see forestry as too high risk, but the Carbomap technology could provide some of the certainty investors need, offering a more precise calculation of carbon.
“Like anything else the more certain you in your methodology in your standards and the more consistent you are, the more funding you will attract. You want something that’s stable“, said Dr Patenaude.
The system will also make it easier to track the loss of forest – and non-compliance of the REDD scheme.
While deforestation – direct land use change by cutting trees down for agriculture or building – is easy to detect, degradation, the indirect removal of forests – for illegal logging or charcoal production – is much harder to track.