The role of European National Forest Inventories for international forestry reporting
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Despite agreements on definitions, the national data provided for international reporting are lacking comparability. To address this limitation the European National Forest Inventory Network has established criteria to harmonise definitions and to provide tools to transform national data into internationally comparable data.
Forest reporting presents a series of challenges for countries, owing to diverse processes at international level such as the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA), Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol. Further challenges are faced at European level with Forest Europe and policy needs.
The aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive review of the national and international forest reporting processes and of the role of the National Forest Inventories (NFIs) and the long-associated challenges resulting from a lack of comparability in definitions used. In addition, there is a discussion on the role of the European National Forest Inventory Network (ENFIN) as a facilitator for enhancing harmonization and comparability of national data and the ancillary information required to monitor European forestry-related policies.
NFIs take part to international reporting processes as providers of information. They are correspondent to the FRA process, and then they know very well the context of harmonization. Participating in the ENFIN research projects, NFIs, and particularly authors, conducted a screening exercise on harmonization status at European and World level.
This review article is a synthesis of the main findings of the abovementioned screening exercise. It highlights the main gaps in terms of comparability of result in international reporting. Thanks to ENFIN harmonization research project, it gives same ways of working as a possible benchmark for the rest of the world.
Based on the international reporting exercises, their interactions, and impacts on new forestry policy requirements, the need for a strengthened harmonization process can clearly be demonstrated. Due to European policy needs, research work within ENFIN has been initiated to develop tools for building comparable results at international level. This work is an important benchmark particularly for countries outside Europe from which to base future harmonization work.
KeywordsForest Wood resources Harmonization International reporting exercises European National Forest Inventory Network
National Forest Inventories
European National Forest Inventory Network
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Forest Resource Assessments
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), greenhouse gas
International Tropical Timber Organization
National Forest Inventories
European Cooperation in Science and Technology
Forest Europe Criteria and Indicators
Sustainable Forest Management
Collaborative Forest Resources Questionnaire
United Nations Environment Programme
Observatoire des Forêts d’Afrique Centrale
Commission des Forêts d’Afrique Centraler
- FRA RSS
Forest Resources Assessment Remote sensing survey
a Legally Binding Agreement
Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee
European forest Institute
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation processes
Joint Research Centre
European Forest Data Centre
European Forest Fire Information System
Forest Information System for Europe
European Forest Bureau Network
In recent decades, the focus on forestry and forest management has shifted from being primarily focused on wood production to sustainable ecosystem management. Therefore, the scope of National Forest Inventories (NFIs) has broadened to include new variables to meet these new information requirements (Tomppo et al. 2010a). This concerns reporting at both national and international level. This broadened scope is a huge challenge for NFIs in terms of definitions and methodology. The term “definitions” must be understood for all the variables collected by NFIs for national purposes and international reporting. It applies from forest and forest area to deadwood and forest composition going through growing stock, biomass, increment, fellings but also browsing impact or variables related with non-wood forest products (NWFP). Concerning “methodology”, this term covers remote sensing (RS) techniques as well as ground surveys, both in statistical terms including sampling design, estimation methods and precision attached to the results. Models for estimating wood resources and biomass from the collected variables such as tree height and diameter at breast height are also part of these methodology aspects.
The European National Forest Inventory Network (ENFIN) was established to promote NFIs as comprehensive monitoring systems by harmonising information on forest ecosystems. “Harmonization” in terms of NFIs is the process of making data and estimates comparable over time and across administrative borders. At European level, NFIs decided to join efforts to exchange information, methods and to work more closely together to set up new statistical tools and new models. The group aims to enhance co-operation between organizations that implement NFI, the promotion of knowledge-sharing, enhancement of sampling methods and new assessment methodologies. This will lead to the continuous improvement of methods, data collection and data analysis within the NFIs. Since its foundation in 2003, a number of projects have been carried out under the ENFIN umbrella. With the aim of enhancing data harmonization for international reporting, the undertaken actions can be split into three different types: (i) research projects for proposing harmonization methodology; (ii) case studies in order to implement the results of research projects at national or regional level and (iii) knowledge sharing not only among European countries but also outside Europe. This regional effort (sensu regions of the world) may serve as a benchmark for other less harmonized regions of the world, by demonstrating methods, difficulties and perspectives in harmonising. Within all these projects, the harmonization methodology and some test case study results were produced. For example, for estimating growing stock (GS), the Swiss NFI measures only trees with a diameter at breast height greater or equal to 12 cm whereas this threshold is 0 cm for the reference definition of GS agreed under cost Action E43 (Lanz et al. 2010). Therefore, an estimate of the missing part of the Swiss GS is necessary to correspond with the reference definition.
2 International forestry reporting
2.1 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is charged with collecting, evaluating and disseminating information relating to nutrition, food and agriculture and associated areas such as forestry. In 1946, one year following the founding of FAO, a first global survey on forest and forestry aspects was conducted by the organization. The results were published in 1948 as Forest Resources of the World (FAO 1948). The assessment was based on a questionnaire sent to all countries, of which 101 responded, representing about 66 percent of the world’s forests. The variables collected were the forest area (total and productive sensu mainly devoted to wood production), types of forest by accessibility, growth and fellings. This first world forest inventory report pointed out a lack of reliable forestry inventory information for many countries and a lack of commonly accepted terms and definitions.
Starting with the forest area and wood production, in line with the development focus at that time, the questionnaire evolved gradually to grasp environmental and social aspects of forest and forestry products in order to provide the population with a better quality of life. In the 1960s and early 1990s, the environmental functions of forests grew in importance. There was even a holistic perception of world forests as part of the “global ecosystem” (Food and Agriculture Organization 1995). New definitions were agreed, and new variables were collected to assess these environmental and social components, expanding the challenge of comparability between national collected data (Matthews 2001). Models were built to study global forests as a source or a sink of carbon in the atmosphere, depending on whether there is an increase or decrease in global forest biomass (Blackard et al. 2008). These national models generally using NFI data highlighted the discrepancies between carbon evaluations from one country to another one (Keith et al. 2009). After the Rio conference in 1992, the concept of sustainability which had been largely shared among foresters for centuries, gained importance on the political agenda at world level and sustainable forest management (SFM) came to the fore. Thus, new variables were collected in order to assess these aspects and their evolution over time (Castaneda 2000). Political debate on the variables to be included still exists, such as the ratio between harvest and production. Due to this difficulty, the concept has become a matter of political concern, and countries use different approaches to evaluate how SFM is implemented and achieved in their country (Mc Donald and Lane 2004).
3 The forest resources assessment
The FAO Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) has been assessing the world’s forests at 5 to 10 year intervals since 1946. The FRA reporting process is functioning in four steps. The first step is an exchange between national correspondents (mainly NFI experts) and the FAO on definitions. This exchange includes discussion on new attributes and other proposed changes, as well as preparation of the next reporting exercise. The second part is the provision of data by countries. Then, the third step is an iterative interaction between FAO and the national correspondent on comprehension and consistency of these data. The last step is the analysis of data and production of the report by FAO.
There has been a long-standing scientific and technical consultation process between countries and FAO in order to improve definitions and enhance the comparability of data. Since 1987 onwards, an expert level meeting has been organised in Kotka (Finland), at approximately 6-year intervals, in order to analyze the results of the previous FRA process and to propose improvements in definitions for the next FRA exercise (Killmann and Schöne 2003). These harmonization exercises have three main goals: (i) to refine definitions where necessary, (ii) to improve the consistency and utility of the data and (iii) to ensure as far as possible the comparability of temporal series of forest data.
Nevertheless, the significant differences in forest types between tropical, temperate and boreal forests have repeatedly challenged harmonization problems. The harmonization work on definitions is a long-standing work which requires consensus. However, consensus may lead to a lack of clarity in the formulated definitions as the final definition had to cater for all the national needs (de Foresta et al. 2013). The vagueness introduced to the definitions opened the door to national interpretation resulting in heterogeneous data that was hardly comparable between countries (Matthews and Grainger 2002). In this respect, the FAO pushed countries to provide metadata on how variables were assessed. Important though this process was to understand the differences between countries in applying FAO common definitions. It did not open newer perspectives to the data because the countries continued to use their national interpretation of the definitions (Kelatwang 2002). In addition to this national interpretation of FAO definitions, it is necessary to have an insight into the diversity of tools used to collect data. Some countries have long-standing NFIs; others started recently to implement a NFI and some others only use remote sensing (RS) surveys. Thus, the quality of data, estimations and level of precision are quite different among them (Hansen et al. 2013). For the countries only using RS surveys, some variables such as the forest area change, growing stock or biomass are sometimes difficult to estimate, particularly if there is no field assessment and precision estimates are rarely available (Grainger 2008; Romijn et al. 2015).
The situation has improved over time and in 2014, 112 countries implemented NFI programmes (more than two thirds of the total number of countries participating in the FRA exercise) offering the possibility to give a reliable estimation of quantitative variables with attached statistical errors. These countries include some of the 77 percent of the world’s forest area assessed with at least a first comprehensive NFI assessment established or running (Keenan et al. 2015). The number of countries implementing new statistical NFIs in recent times includes Hungary (2010) and Russia (2007). Also, during 2015, Bulgaria started the planning phase for a new statistical NFI.
In 1990, the FAO introduced a remote sensing survey (RSS) at world level (FRA RSS) with the support of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission (EC) to assess sustainable forest management (SFM) and produce data mainly for parts of the world where NFIs were not in place at that time. This FRA RSS is conducted every 10 years for assessing the forest area and forest area changes. The survey is composed of over 13,000 sampling blocks of 10× 10 km within Landsat images. Other large RSS used wall-to-wall sets of Landsat images with comparable results to the ones obtained by the FRA RSS (Gong et al. 2013; Hansen et al. 2013) or also MODIS images (Hansen et al. 2010). The use of different forest definitions produces varying estimates of the forest area. For example, the FRA uses a land-use definition (FRA 2015) while the FRA RSS uses a land cover one (FAO 2012). Hansen et al. (2013) estimate the forest area changes in a different way by measuring tree cover changes. The results are quite similar, and an analysis of the differences in results using these different methods can be found in Keenan et al. (2015).
Definitions of some terms have evolved, such as the definition of forest, for example (Putz and Redford 2010). Additional new variables and then definitions appeared. This aspect adds a supplementary difficulty in terms of continuity of data series. In particular, the evaluation of changes using different surveys over time has to be very carefully considered.
3.1 The Rio Summit
The Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on Biological diversity (CBD) is an international legally binding treaty (Rio Conference 1992). Its objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Its reports are often seen as the key documents regarding sustainable development. There are 194 parties to the CBD and 183 national action plans.
During the tenth Conference of the Parties (COP) held in Aichi, Japan, in 2010, the CBD adopted Decision X/2 for the implementation of the strategic plan for biodiversity 2011/2020 and established the 20 Aichi targets (Chirici et al. 2012). In 2010, the Aichi targets were established with a view to reducing the rate of biodiversity loss and averting dangerous biodiversity change (Pereira et al. 2013). Target 5 requires that the loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is halved and, if feasible, stopped while target 7 requires that the areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry be sustainably managed, thus ensuring conservation of biodiversity (CBD 2010 in Chirici et al. 2012).
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
The Forest Principles
It is the informal name given to the Non-legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of all types of forests. It makes several recommendations for conservation and sustainable development of forests (Johnson 1993).
3.2 International requirements for “regions” of the world
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
The Montréal Process
The Observatoire des Forêts d’Afrique Centrale
International Tropical Timber Organization
The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) is an intergovernmental organization promoting the conservation and sustainable management, use and trade of tropical forest resources. It develops internationally agreed policy documents to promote sustainable forest management and forest conservation. It assists tropical member countries to adapt such policies to local circumstances and to implement them in the field through projects. The ITTO also collects analyzes and disseminates data on the production and trade of tropical timber.
All these international processes used their own definitions in line with their particular goals, so small differences existed between reporting exercises and the burden of countries was very high. In 2012, a convergence process between international processes and national correspondents, initiated by FAO, made some proposals in order to avoid too much burden to the providers of information and to capitalize on the central focal point which is the FRA report. With the same aim, concordance of dates was also decided. The majority of data is now collected using a Collaborative Forest Resources Questionnaire (CFRQ) and only a part of data concerning each regional process is added.
4 European forestry policy needs
4.1 European Union level
The European Union (EU), as an international organization, has signed all the UN agreements endorsed by its Member States (MS). Therefore, the EU also has to report as an entity for UN processes such as the CBD or the Kyoto protocol. As a consequence, the European Commission (EC) sets up actions for collecting data and building models at EU level in order to provide such answers to international LBA (EC 2009). Harmonization is crucial for the EU to ensure that EU figures are compliant with the sum of results of its MS.
Even if there is no mandate for working with forest issues directly and no coherent forest policy at EU level, forests are indirectly part of several main EU policies and legislation as highlighted in the EU forest strategy (EC 2013). Forests are an integral component of the “Habitats and Birds Directives”, about 46 % of the Natura 2000 surfaces are covered by forest ecosystems (EEA 2012) and the Biodiversity Strategy 2020 has several targets where forests are specifically mentioned. The EU supports SFM and the multifunctional role of forests as expressed in the EU Forest Action Plan and the Forest Strategies. Forests also play an important role in other existing EU policies, such as energy policy (Renewable Energy Directive/2009/28/EC) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and rural development legislation (REDD+). There is a continued need for forest indicators and assessments at EU level to support the development and implementation of a number of European environmental policies, where forests play a major role. The European Commission (EC) collects data on forestry aspects through Eurostat and its statistical network, but these data are mainly socio-economic variables. Data coming from NFIs are sourced from the FRA process and from the State of Europe Forests (SoEF) at European level. The EC tried to obtain more information from NFIs but with little success due to the lack of a common forest policy. NFIs were funded by countries for national purposes, and forest is considered part of the subsidiarity principle. Now, the situation is evolving because the EC, the MS and the European Parliament (EP) have stressed the necessity for a better harmonized dataset at EU level (EC 2013).
How is the forest resource in Europe developing when different policy goals related to forests are implemented?
Is it possible to ensure a sustainable provision of ecosystem services from forests even though climate change and social pressures increase?
What are the consequences for forest management when implementing one or more forest related policy?
What are the trade-offs in forest development and in the provision of the various services of forests when favouring one forest related policy goal over another: e.g., more biodiversity vs. more resources for energy?
There is a general interest in addressing forest information at EU level. A sizable majority of reactions argue for more harmonized and more readily available information about EU forests, forest production estimates, biodiversity in forests, carbon accounting, valuation of non-timber forest services and goods, etc.;
More research efforts are needed to establish adequate knowledge about the nature, extent and expected effects of climatic change on forests and the forest sector;
Forests in the Mediterranean region are likely to be most affected by climate change, followed by the mountainous and Central European forests (mostly coniferous).
To address these questions, intensive monitoring on the status of forests is required, which goes beyond the borders of countries. Harmonizing data produced at national level and developing information systems to collect and analyze the results, is fundamental to the production of sound EU forest information. In this respect, the Standing Forestry Committee (SFC) has set up an ad hoc working group (WG) on data availability at national level, how to use it for EU purposes and how far it is possible to harmonize these data and results. The conclusions of this ad hoc WG stressed (i) the importance of NFIs in this process of production and harmonization of information and (ii) the role that NFIs should play in the future for discussing feasibility of new data and Criteria and Indicators (C&I) for EU policy needs (EC 2012).
4.2 Pan-European process
On the initiative of France and Finland, the First Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe (MCPFE) was held in Strasbourg in 1990. The Strasbourg Conference was a major step to initiate the incorporation of scientific data into political action to protect Europe’s forests. After the Earth Summit, the Second Ministerial Conference, held in Helsinki in June 1993 adopted four resolutions reflecting Europe’s approaches to global environmental issues; namely the promotion of sustainable forest management, the conservation of biological diversity, strategies regarding the consequences of possible climate change for the forest sector and increasing co-operation with countries in transition to market economies (Barthod and Touzet 1994). At the Lisbon Conference in 1998, the ministers decided to develop a work programme including a set of Criteria and Indicators (C&I) to check the sustainability of Forest Management at pan-European level (MCPFE 1998). A set of 35 C&I was endorsed at the Vienna conference in April 2003 (MCPFE 2003). The majority of data are now collected using the CFRQ, and only a specific part of results concerning the pan-European process is added. The MCPFE process took the name of “Forest Europe” under the leadership of Norway (2007–2011). In the general declaration, it is stated that “European expanding forests play an important role in mitigating climate change. SFM promotes the conservation of biodiversity. However, diseases and extreme weather conditions like storms and fires also threaten forests. Europe’s forests provide renewable wood for processing and energy, thereby fostering a green economy” (Forest Europe, UNECE and FAO 2011). With this summary, the State of Europe’s Forests 2015 (Forest Europe,UNECE and FAO 2015) report provides a complete assessment of the entire forest estate, through 35 quantitative and 17 qualitative indicators. The qualitative includes five indicators providing general information about the forest area governed in a country and 12 indicators providing information about policies, institutions and instruments used to address specific topics. This ongoing process stressed the need (i) to check consistency of NFI data together with socio-economic information, (ii) verify reliability and comparability of the information provided and (iii) assess robustness of changes over time and how far it is sound to interpret them.
More political will and commitment was needed;
A cost-effective mechanism to collect and analyze the information structured according to the indicators was required;
The cost-benefit ratio of implementation is not favourable for some of the indicators and this required further exploration;
However, the cost and consequences of not implementing the C&I for SFM should also be taken into consideration;
The idea of composite indicators was highlighted, focusing on the need to measure progress of specific policy issues (e.g. biodiversity, profitability or protection).
5 European NFIs as a benchmark to address harmonization issues
Differences between forest definitions in international forestry reporting exercises
Considered areas in the definition
Temporarily unstocked areas
Non-forest land uses
Min. area (ha)
Min. height (m)
Crown cover (%)
Strip width (m)
The increasing workload at national level due to the many international information needs as well as information required on SFM at national level require clear information on definitions, data significance and limitations. The NFIs adopted different basic definitions and methodologies, leading to inconsistencies and lack of comparable data for international reporting (Gabler et al 2012). The data provision mechanisms must be based on a robust, statistically sound, current and long-term statistical information system. The ENFIN group collaborates with organizations such as Forest Europe, FAO, UNECE and the European Commission, which can benefit and be complementary to ENFIN’s efforts. ENFIN serves a broad spectrum of forest-related policies and therefore aims to enhance co-operation between national forest inventory organizations, especially to: (i) provide a clearly visible platform for the provision of harmonized forest inventory information on European forests; (ii) promote knowledge-sharing, enhanced methods and new ideas; (iii) thereby maintain updated forest information systems; (iv) ensure continuous improvement of methods, data collection and data analysis within the NFI; (v) maximise the synergy between NFIs and other European and International level data collection systems, monitoring and reporting activities, and (vi) ensure openness to new requirements on forest data for emerging policy needs (EC 2013).
5.2 COST harmonization research work and outputs
Two COST research actions have been developed within the framework of ENFIN: “COST action E43” and “COST action FP1001 USEWOOD.”
5.2.1 COST Action E43
COST Action E43 was entitled “Harmonization of National Inventories in Europe: Techniques for Common Reporting”. The main objective of the COST Action E43 was to improve and harmonize the existing national forest resource inventories in Europe. The secondary objectives were to support new inventories in such a way that inventories meet national, European and global level requirements in supplying up-to-date, harmonized and transparent forest resource information, and to promote the use of scientifically sound and validated methods in forest inventory designs, data collection and data analysis. More than 30 countries and institutions, mainly from Europe joined the Action, which was initiated in 2004. This harmonization effort has already gone beyond EU-members but is also of great interest outside Europe (McRoberts et al. 2012). It serves as a harmonization benchmark outside Europe. As examples, it is interesting to pinpoint that (i) non-European countries such as the USA, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and multiple international organizations such as FAO, UNECE; European Forest Institute (EFI), EC, EEA, and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) participated in meetings, (ii) numerous countries took part in the publication effort of providing country reports for the books published by SPRINGER for the COST E43 and COST Usewood exercises. They are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Ecuador, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Russian federation and the USA. The main objective was achieved through the development of agreed common inventory definitions. The Action developed and agreed upon “reference definitions” (Vidal et al. 2008) as the formal basis for harmonization. The methodological approach not only needs a reference definition but also a description of the full process involved. The general way of working includes an initial screening exercise of the state of the art. An enquiry is conducted by, e.g. a questionnaire in order to explore and highlight the differences between the definitions applied in the NFIs. The enquiry is followed by an analytical decomposition of these national definitions into criteria and a description of the differing national thresholds (Vidal et al. 2008). As an illustration, the example of an individual tree which is the basic entity for Growing Stock (GS) and biomass estimation can be taken. First, a reference definition of a tree is needed for the distinction from other woody plants. Second, unambiguous specifications of the elements or parts of a tree are required, because definitions related to GS and biomass estimation are usually formulated on the basis of tree parts to be considered. Thus, a reference definition of each tree element used for defining GS and biomass is also necessary. To establish a clear specification for each element, a multi-step analytical partitioning approach was proposed leading to the unambiguous definition of each tree element (Gschwantner et al. 2009). These tree elements are single disjoint parts of the tree that are clearly defined. Combined, these elements can describe a whole tree. In this way, a flexible scheme could be achieved that (i) serves as a basis for a broad range of reference definitions, (ii) permits further partitioning into additional, smaller elements and thus (iii) facilitates the adaptation to future developments and harmonization requirements. The accuracy and precision of this harmonized information is an essential point to be considered. It depends on many factors, e.g. the conciseness of the definitions involved, the availability and quality of data for developing and applying bridging functions, the ancillary information used and the method applied to perform the conversion from a national to a reference definition. An example applies for the Spanish NFI forest national definition with a minimum crown cover of 5 % instead of 10 % for the reference definition (Alberdi et al. 2010). The situation may be more complex when there are differences in more than one criteria involved. Another important example concerns forest biodiversity assessments (Winter et al. 2008; Winter et al. 2011).
Then, methods called “bridges” were developed to transform an estimate based on a local or national definition to correspond to a reference definition (Ståhl et al. 2012). There were three main outputs of this action: two books published by Springer, one of them describing each national NFI in depth (Tomppo et al. 2010b) and the other one describing the biodiversity assessments and harmonization with NFI information (Chirici et al. 2011) and a special issue of the scientific journal Forest Science published in 2012 (Vol 58). As an example of this harmonization work, an experimental test using deadwood data from 9208 sample plots measured in nine European countries and the United States was conducted (Rondeux et al. 2012).
5.2.2 COST Action FP1001
A new COST Action USEWOOD focusing on wood resources and wood supply harmonization was proposed and accepted in 2010. Its title was: “Improving data and information on the potential supply of wood resources: A European approach from multisource National Forest Inventories”. The question of wood availability in Europe on a sustainable basis is highly relevant to define global climate change mitigation strategies and targets for biomass energy as adopted at national and European level, and to support the proposal of an increased use of wood as a post-Kyoto decision. Future scenarios at EU-level highlight a deficit of wood supply compared to wood consumption of 47 Mm3 in 2005, 134 Mm3 in 2010, possibly reaching 436 Mm3 in 2020 (COST 4137/10 2010). The major issues to be clarified were the potential supply of tree biomass, trees outside the forest, and the economic, social and ecological conditions, which will determine the wood supply.
Improve and harmonize data and information on the potential supply of wood resources at European level
Compare and disseminate the methodologies, including remote sensing techniques, definitions and results of wood resource studies in European countries and develop best practices and harmonized guidelines in this field
Exchange information on difficulties and challenges and find harmonized solutions in, e.g. modelling taper curves and assortments of trees or in assessing trees outside forests
Help countries to improve their expertise in special modelling or remote sensing techniques in capacity building of these technical areas
Contribute to build a comprehensive and reliable picture of potential wood supply as an input to energy, environment, forest policy making, and wood industry decision making
5.3 Framework contract between ENFIN and the JRC
The provision of harmonized data on tree species distribution on a 1 km × 1 km INSPIRE grid over Europe with a joint JRC-ENFIN publication of a European tree species atlas (San Miguel Ayanz et al. 2016);
The validation of the JRC European forest map with more than 2 million NFI forest/non-forest plots;
A harmonized basal area statistical estimation based on the 50 km × 50 km INSPIRE grid with a satisfactory confidence interval.
Under the leadership of the French NFI, an intermediate data platform (called e-forest) was developed to gather NFI plot data at the European scale. This intermediate platform was necessary to allow NFI experts to upload data which was linked by a confidentiality agreement. The platform was used to generate statistics whenever a new request was received from the EC. This permitted the provision of sound aggregated harmonized results to the European Commission, crossing national borders. A second FC was signed at the end of 2011 in order to continue the data provision service to the JRC on a voluntary basis. Results include an open source dynamic model to estimate volume and growing stock as well as forecasts under forest management hypotheses applicable under different climatic and forest management conditions all over Europe (Sallnäs et al. 2015). In addition, a harmonized method to calculate biomass based on the INSPIRE grid is currently being prepared by a large majority of EU countries.
5.4 Horizon 2020
Horizon 2020 (H2020) is the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, a Europe 2020 flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness. Under the H2020 call, two specific lines are devoted to forests, the first one is to harmonization of forest data and the second one is to improve forest management models. These research calls are launched to support EU policies, highlighting the importance of harmonized data at EU level for both calls. The ENFIN group associated with a large consortium of Universities and Research Institutions from 25 European countries under the leadership of Natural Resources Institute Finland proposed a project called DIABOLO and won the first call (H2020 grant agreement No. 633464). This 4-year research project will build on the results and publications of COST Action E43 and FP1001 to develop new scientific methods for the harmonization of data.
6 Discussion and conclusions
Europe is probably one of the most complex areas in the world to collect harmonized forest information. Through many years of experience, European countries have developed NFIs, forest information databases and systems that collect and analyze this information at a national scale. However, when looking at forest resources at a European level, differences in forest definitions, methods and scope of the information systems reveal a very complex network made of national and regional systems, which makes the collection of harmonized information a difficult task (Table 1). This long experience gave ENFIN the opportunity to play a precursor role in developing tools and methods for harmonization. At EU level, a series of “Data Centres” were defined in 2005, giving the JRC the responsibility for developing and establishing the European Forest Data Centre (EFDAC). However, without an underlying European forest policy, the collection and reporting of detailed forest information from the countries is often difficult due to incomplete datasets because of the voluntary basis of MS contributions. Although very valuable, reporting in this context provides a single value for each forest variable for each country, which limits the type of analysis that can be done with this information. There is a long way to achieve harmonization for all attributes, but with the first results achieved, the road is paved for future harmonization work. ENFIN plays an important role for all international reporting processes. Together with the COST Office and the JRC from the EC, NFIs have built reference definitions (Vidal et al. 2008), bridges to convert national data into comparable ones (Ståhl et al. 2012) and then tested this methodology in real situations (Tomter et al. 2012). This way of working could be a harmonization benchmark for UN regions of the world outside Europe with the ambition to be as closed as possible in terms of definitions between the different regions to enhance comparability within and among regions.
The sustainable supply of wood, in the context of an increased use of wood together with UNFCCC commitments, is challenging. The concept of SFM is not readily grasped and so is difficult to define. Intergovernmental agreements such as those of the Montréal Process and Forest Europe, introduced C&I for assessing SFM. Unfortunately, the Montréal Process and Forest Europe do not use the same set of C&I, as data collected through the two exercises in temperate and boreal forests are hardly comparable. NFI data are indeed crucial, but the most complete assessment of forests and SFM is achieved when they are integrated with information from other sources so that the social, environmental and economic dimensions can all be assessed. While NFIs are not providing all the data for C&I reporting, many NFIs are responsible for putting together all the necessary information and being the correspondent to this C&I process. Generally, NFIs are also in charge of data analysis for monitoring SFM.
Moreover, a lot of countries do not have sufficient means to properly assess SFM. The NFIs and other investigation methods/surveys (if any) are based on quantitative analytical variables. Nevertheless, to assess SFM, it is necessary to define more global C&I. The choice of such C&I is subjective and that leaves to countries room for interpretation. There is currently no common agreement at world level nor at European level on how to assess SFM. There is, for example, a lot of criticism on the usefulness of the set of C&I developed by Forest Europe to assess SFM (Baycheva et al. 2013).
Tackling today’s environmental challenges, such as adapting to climate change, managing ecosystems and natural resources in a sustainable manner, protecting biodiversity, preventing and managing environmental crises such as floods, forest fires, storms and water scarcity, depend on the assessment of data from a variety of sectors and sources.
Lessons learnt on the complexity of international reporting highlight that close cooperation between providers of information represented at European level by ENFIN is an important step towards harmonization. The research, networking and demonstration projects conducted by ENFIN must be continued and supported by financed initiatives in order to speed and enlarge the scope of the harmonization possibilities. However, there are remaining indicators requested for international (such monitoring the evaluation of the conservation status of Natura 2000 in forest habitats, the estimation of non-wood forest products production) for which more efforts are needed and harmonization process is ongoing by NFI experts (DIABOLO project). ENFIN and NFI experts should also be engaged as early as possible in the political processes, particularly for the definition of new criteria and indicators.
This example of a European way of working by structuration of research actions and pilot studies to test harmonization possibilities among NFIs, as well as the necessary dialogue between policy makers and providers of information prior to setting up new information and/or criteria and indicators could be a benchmark for other UN regions of the world in order to enhance dialogue and comparability of data for international reporting. In a period where forest policy requirements are changing quickly, this close collaboration between policy makers and providers of information is essential to obtain a clear and comparable picture of forests among countries in order to take decisions. It is also a key element for addressing a number of issues: demand for renewable energy, evaluating the impact climate change on forests or the ever increasing numbers of natural hazards. It is not clear what form this close cooperation between policy makers and providers will take. However, following this collaborative process, NFIs will be in a better position to anticipate new policy needs, discuss possible solutions together and with policy makers to propose a sound and common response to these new needs as quickly as possible, backed up with comparable relevant data.
We would like to thank the Vice chair of the Cost Action Susana Barreiro and the previous Chair Annemarie Batstrup-Birk for their efficient coordination and all NFI experts who collaborating in the COST Action FP1001 and Tracy Houston Durrant for her professional English review.
This research was supported by the COST Action FP1001.
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