Community monitoring of carbon stocks for REDD+: Does accuracy and cost change over time?

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+) is a potentially powerful international policy mechanism that many tropical countries are working towards implementing. Thus far, limited practical consideration has been paid to local rights to forests and forest resources in REDD+ readiness programs, beyond noting the importance of these issues. Previous studies have shown that community members can reliably and cost-effectively monitor forest biomass. At the same time, this can improve local ownership and forge important links between monitoring activities and local decision-making. Existing studies have, however, been static assessments of biomass at one point in time. REDD+ programs will require repeated surveys of biomass over extended time frames. Here, we examine trends in accuracy and costs of local forest monitoring over time. We analyse repeated measurements by community members and professional foresters of 289 plots over two years in four countries in Southeast Asia. This shows, for the first time, that with repeated measurements community members' biomass measurements become increasingly accurate and costs decline. These findings provide additional support to available evidence that community members can play a strong role in monitoring forest biomass in the local implementation of REDD+.