Reports 2018/28

Can high quality satellite data save time and costs?

Barriers to progress in REDD preparations

This report discusses economic barriers to participation and progress in REDD Readiness preparation among non-Annex 1 forest countries. The report provides an economic-theoretical framework for discussing cost-effective building of reporting capacities for REDD.

The framework for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, conservation and sustainable development) was negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The goal was to provide monetary incentives for developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Countries that participate in the REDD programme (REDD countries) are expected to report on the carbon stored in their forest reserves and the emissions caused by deforestation. The countries’ reporting will serve as a basis for receiving results-based payments for emission reductions achieved. In addition, REDD countries are encouraged to improve their acquisition of data on types of forest, drivers for change in forest areas, and ecosystem services and natural resources associated with forests (e.g. carbon capture and biodiversity). Finally, REDD countries are encouraged to develop and implement conservation strategies to preserve their forests and reduce emissions. In this report we aim to identify barriers to the countries’ progress in their REDD preparations, and to discuss potential time and cost savings through increased use of high-resolution satellite imagery in reporting changes in forest cover.

Participation in REDD activities is voluntary, and countries that participate are expected to develop monitoring, analysing and reporting capacities, that is a National Forest Monitoring System. Several data sources may be used when building capacities, including remote sensing data such as aerial photos and satellite data in addition to ground observations. In general, both detailed information (reference data) and less detailed and more general information (complementary data) are needed to build sufficient capacities to give an overall impression of various types of forest cover in a country. Ground observations are always considered reference data, while for some forest types high-resolution satellite data may be used as a substitute for ground observations when estimating forest cover. As a general rule, however, remote sensing data are viewed as complementary data.

The multitude of data and methods available to estimate carbon pools also imply that the costs of obtaining these estimates vary considerably across countries. Furthermore, the costs depend on the ambition level and previously built forest monitoring and management capacities of a country. Cost considerations are important for choosing the methodological approach that will be used for building reporting capacity, for comparing running costs with the potential for results-based payments, and for evaluating the replicability of the system in other REDD countries. Reducing the costs of REDD-related efforts will likely to help progression in existing REDD countries as well increasing the willingness to become a REDD country.

REDD efforts appear to progress slowly; we find that as of 2015, most of the REDD countries had limited carbon-pool reporting capacity for their forests and very few had reached the stage of managing their forest reserves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our theoretical analysis indicates that a lack of financial incentives caused by uncertainty about verification requirements and payment schemes is likely to delay progress. This seems to be confirmed by the empirical analysis of the progression of different REDD countries (based on data provided by FAO FRA), as countries where the payment and verification criteria are negotiated seem to have progressed faster. The question thus arises whether there is a way for REDD countries to progress faster before detailed agreements between donors and the forest countries are negotiated and signed. One suggestion is to make high-resolution satellite data freely available. These data may be used as reference data when estimating changes in forest cover and they offer high flexibility with respect to meeting many quality and/or verification requirements, and reduce the cost of the uncertainty concerning the details of verification and payment schemes in future agreements.

This report provides an estimate of the costs of supporting a wider use of high-resolution satellite data in REDD countries. Based on information from FAO FRA about costs in the SEPAL project, we estimate the annual cost of purchasing high-resolution data for the lowest capacity REDD countries to be USD 403,546. The cost of building sufficient reporting capacity to meet the quality requirements of FAO FRA’s SEPAL project (which we assume is sufficient to qualify for result-based payments) over three years would be approximately USD 3.6 million (see section 6.2). We estimate the annual cost of purchasing high-resolution data for the higher capacity REDD countries at USD 2.0 million. Finally, if all REDD countries were to make annual purchases of high-resolution data for the period 2017-2020 with the same coverage to that of the SEPAL pilot countries, the estimated present value of the cost, using a 4% discount rate, is USD 22.8 million. The use of high-resolution data to monitor changes in forest cover permits reporting capacity on better than the lowest quality level (Tier 1 in IPPC’s guidelines) already in year two of a monitoring programme. The costs may be as low as 3% of the costs of using ground observations only as reference data, and reporting can start 4-6 years earlier than the average time used to build a more traditional National Forest Monitoring System based mainly on ground observations.

About the publication


Barriers to progress in REDD preparations. Can high quality satellite data save time and costs?


Kristine Grimsrud and Bente Halvorsen

Series and number

Reports 2018/28


Statistisk sentralbyrå

Commissioning party

Norwegian Space Centre


Methods and documentation, Pollution and climate

ISBN (online)


ISBN (printed)




Number of pages


About Reports

Analyses and annotated statistical results from various surveys are published in the series Reports. Surveys include sample surveys, censuses and register-based surveys.