Environmental Management

, Volume 55, Issue 5, pp 1080–1092 | Cite as

Vietnam’s Forest Transition in Retrospect: Demonstrating Weaknesses in Business-as-Usual Scenarios for REDD+

  • Jeppe Ankersen
  • Kenneth Grogan
  • Ole MertzEmail author
  • Rasmus Fensholt
  • Jean-Christophe Castella
  • Guillaume Lestrelin
  • Dinh Tien Nguyen
  • Finn Danielsen
  • Søren Brofeldt
  • Kjeld Rasmussen


One of the prerequisites of the REDD+ mechanism is to effectively predict business-as-usual (BAU) scenarios for change in forest cover. This would enable estimation of how much carbon emission a project could potentially prevent and thus how much carbon credit should be rewarded. However, different factors like forest degradation and the lack of linearity in forest cover transitions challenge the accuracy of such scenarios. Here we predict and validate such BAU scenarios retrospectively based on forest cover changes at village and district level in North Central Vietnam. With the government’s efforts to increase the forest cover, land use policies led to gradual abandonment of shifting cultivation since the 1990s. We analyzed Landsat images from 1973, 1989, 1998, 2000, and 2011 and found that the policies in the areas studied did lead to increased forest cover after a long period of decline, but that this increase could mainly be attributed to an increase in open forest and shrub areas. We compared Landsat classifications with participatory maps of land cover/use in 1998 and 2012 that indicated more forest degradation than was captured by the Landsat analysis. The BAU scenarios were heavily dependent on which years were chosen for the reference period. This suggests that hypothetical REDD+ activities in the past, when based on the remote sensing data available at that time, would have been unable to correctly estimate changes in carbon stocks and thus produce relevant BAU scenarios.


Deforestation Reforestation Forest degradation REDD+ Vietnam Land use change Shifting cultivation 



This research is part of the research project entitled Impacts of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Enhancing Carbon Stocks (I-REDD+). I-REDD+ is funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Research Programme. More information can be found on: The research contributes to the Global Land Project ( and benefitted from support from the Global Land Project, University of Copenhagen.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeppe Ankersen
    • 1
  • Kenneth Grogan
    • 1
  • Ole Mertz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rasmus Fensholt
    • 1
  • Jean-Christophe Castella
    • 2
  • Guillaume Lestrelin
    • 2
  • Dinh Tien Nguyen
    • 3
  • Finn Danielsen
    • 4
  • Søren Brofeldt
    • 4
  • Kjeld Rasmussen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource ManagementUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark
  2. 2.Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), UMR 220 GREDVientianeLao PDR
  3. 3.Center for Agricultural Research and Ecological Studies (CARES)Vietnam National University of AgricultureHanoiVietnam
  4. 4.NORDECOCopenhagen KDenmark

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