Nov 9, 2022
Release: CTrees reveals hidden truths of global forest carbon

(Image credit: Kate Evans, CIFOR). 

PASADENA, Calif., Nov. 9, 2022 -- Today at COP27, non-profit CTrees has launched its highly anticipated country- and jurisdiction-level datasets, an AI-enabled satellite data product that provides a consistent inventory of the carbon in forests globally.

The interactive platform on the CTrees website offers data across every country and jurisdiction in the world, enabling access for governments, the private sector, NGOs and the general public to critical information about forest change. Data from the last 20 years is available, including details of the emissions associated with deforestation and degradation, and removals from regeneration in any country or jurisdiction. 

With forest protection and restoration at the center of international climate mitigation efforts, CTrees data will allow nations with robust inventory systems to increase the frequency and efficacy of national-level reporting on forest carbon, whilst also providing essential information to the many governments that lack the tools to fully assess emissions reduction efforts. As the global stocktake approaches, the platform serves as an integral tool as countries measure and report progress on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

CTrees is unique in that it also measures carbon levels in trees outside forests, an important and often overlooked natural resource that contributes substantially to national biomass, carbon stocks and livelihood of people in many regions. In Africa, CTrees' high-resolution satellite mapping reveals that one-third of all trees are located outside areas classified as forests, and together with sparse savanna woodlands and dry forests, they contain more than 60 billion tons of CO2 equivalent, roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon stored in Africa's rainforest areas.

"CTrees has developed the AI to accurately map and account for carbon stocks of individual trees everywhere on the planet. We plan to introduce this unique methodology across all our data products in the next year. CTrees' tree-level data will empower a larger community to actively participate in climate solutions," said Dr. Martin Brandt, co-founder of CTrees and a professor of geography at the University of Copenhagen.

CTrees, which has been developed by leading scientists and data engineers, also provides, for the first time, a direct measurement of global forest degradation. Degradation is a reduction in the capacity of a forest to provide ecosystem services such as soil stability, water regulation and local economic development. It can also impact biodiversity and the ability of forests to sequester and store carbon. 

Until now, there has been no one accurate method that can be applied to monitor forest degradation, largely because activities that drive degradation, such as logging and mining, happen on a small scale and must be observed close to real time and in high resolution. At present less than a third of countries monitor degradation.

Whilst many mitigation and adaptation efforts to date have largely focused on deforestation, forest degradation is a bigger problem in terms of land mass. CTrees data reveals that forest degradation from logging and fire in tropical regions accounts for 1-1.5 gigatons of COemissions every year, an amount equivalent to about 50% of the annual emissions of Europe. By comparison, emissions from deforestation account for 2.5-3.0 gigatons of carbon annually.

CTrees will also support increased accuracy and transparency across carbon accounting and trading. The data will help inform voluntary carbon market participants who continue to grapple with questions over the true carbon emissions reduction potential of forest investments and how to accurately account for traded carbon.

The data can also serve as a tool for developing nations looking to secure finance through jurisdictional approaches to REDD+, the framework for forest protection and emissions reduction established by the UNFCCC. CTrees will support monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) for countries who lack capacity, ultimately driving accuracy and confidence in carbon accounting for REDD+ activities and adding credibility for any forest carbon credits and other results offered through market mechanisms or climate finance programs.

Dr. Sassan Saatchi, a senior scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who leads CTrees, said "Businesses, governments and communities urgently need better data on forest health and carbon sequestration potential. We are coming dangerously close to the 1.5 degree threshold, soon many impacts of climate change will be irreversible and countries need the most accurate data possible to implement the most effective, immediate policies."

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