Sitemap | Index | Privacy Statement | Legal notice | Contact 
Home The Institute Our Activities Data Portals Documentation Job Opportunities Public Procurement  

Print this page

Estimating tropical deforestation from Earth observation data
Providing quantitative measurements and mapping changes in global forests

Deforestation is the permanent destruction of forests and woodlands. While the phenomenon is not new, the current scale and pace of destruction is alarming.  Some 96% of deforestation occurs in tropical regions. It is thought to be an important contributor to greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions. Emissions from tropical deforestation, forest and peat degradation are currently estimated to be 15% of the world’s anthropogenic GHG emissions.

Example of time-series (years 1990, 2000 and 2005) of 30m resolution satellite imagery over one of the 4,000 tropical  sample sites in the Amazon Basin (20×20km areas)
(Forests appear in dark green, deforested areas (agriculture and pastures) appear in light green or pink)

The EC Communication on deforestation (Oct 2008) proposed that at the  United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations on the future climate regime, the EU calls for halting global forest cover loss by 2030 at the latest, and for reducing from current levels gross tropical deforestation by at least 50% by 2020.

The EC Communication on “International climate policy post-Copenhagen: Acting now to reinvigorate global action on climate change” (COM(2010) 83) highlights the EU ambition for concrete action against climate change and its ambitious targets for 2020. The European Council has welcomed the Commission Communication "Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius" (COM(2007) 2) which describes the climate change strategy of the EU. One of the main elements of this strategy is to consider all greenhouse gases, including emissions due to tropical deforestation.

The latest Communication on Rio+20: towards the green economy and better governance (COM(2011) 363) mentions Forests and Biodiversity among key resources in which to invest for their sustainable management. This Communication refers also to “scientific and technological cooperation at the global level” among proposed lines of action for Rio+20.

In order to contribute to this growing debate, the IES provides quantitative measurements and mapping of changes in forest resources for EU policies related to global environmental and forestry issues, with a focus on tropical forests, including the Caribbean and Pacific regions, and Russian forests. It also addresses forest cover and cover change issues related to EU commitments to multilateral environmental agreements, especially to UN conventions such as the UNFCCC, United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), as well as Action Plans such as on Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT).

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) is a global incentive mechanism that aims at reducing emissions of GHG from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries under the UNFCCC. The IES is involved in developing internationally agreed methods to estimate GHG emissions from deforestation in developing countries in support of the UNFCCC REDD+ mechanism.

Forest Cover Map of Continental Southeast Asia
(Extent: 88ºE - 111ºE, 5ºN -30ºN, Geographic Projection, WGS84)

The IES generates regional forest maps, tracks areas of rapid forest change and produces statistically valid estimates of cover change for the current and previous decades (from the early 1990’s to 2010). It identifies the regional drivers of deforestation, with a focus on tropical forests. The IES products are used as inputs for future climate change impact scenarios and, through close cooperation with DG CLIMA, provide a basis for generating information for the UNFCCC REDD+ process that is related to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. The regional forest maps and estimates of cover change are shared with Commission services, EU Delegations, International Organisations (in particular the Food and Agricultural Organization - FAO), and partners around the world.



  • Beuchle R., Eva H. D., Stibig H.-J., Bodart C., Brink A., Mayaux P., Johansson D., Achard F., Belward A. A (2011). Satellite Data set for Tropical Forest Change Assessment, Int. J. Remote Sens. (in press).
  • Bodart C., Eva H.D., Beuchle R., Raši R., Simonetti D., H.-J. Stibig, Brink A., Lindquist E., Achard F. (2011). Pre-processing of a Sample of Multi-scene and Multi-date Landsat Imagery used to Monitor Forest Cover Changes over the Tropics. ISPRS J. Photogrammetry Remote Sensing. (in press).
  • De Grandi G., Bouvet A., Lucas R., et al. (2011). The K&C PALSAR Mosaic of the African Continent: Processing Issues and First Thematic Results. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sensing, (in press).
  • Achard F., Stibig H.-J., Eva H.D., Lindquist E., Bouvet A., Arino O., Mayaux P. (2010). Estimating tropical deforestation. Carbon Management, 1(2), 271–287.
  • Eva H.D., Carboni S., Achard F. et al. (2010). Monitoring forest areas from continental to territorial levels using a sample of medium spatial resolution satellite imagery. ISPRS J. Photogramm. Remote Sens. 65, 191–197.
  • Gibbs H.K., Ruesch A.S., Achard F. et al. (2010). Tropical forests were the primary sources of new agricultural land in the 1980s and 1990s. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 107 (38), 16732–16737.
  • Achard F., Brady M., Brown S., De Fries R., Grassi G., et al. (Eds) (2010): Global Observation of Forest and Land Cover Dynamics (GOFC-GOLD) Report version COP16-1, Alberta, Canada 203p.

Contact Info:

Frédéric Achard - Tel: +39-0332-785545 E-mail: frederic.achard(at)

Science for the Environment Quality  Fire Risk