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Project Overview

Project aim

Different stakeholders from around the world have a common challenge to monitor forest carbon stock and sink comprehensively, accurately and cost-effectively. However, the specific requirements vary between users. The ESA Forest Carbon Monitoring project (running until November 2025) develops user-centric approaches that meet the varying user needs in forest carbon monitoring to shift economies towards carbon-neutral futures.

We aim to offer:  

  • A selection of statistically robust monitoring methods designed for accurate biomass and carbon mapping, removing barriers that prevent fact-based decision making regarding forest carbon stocks.
  • Cloud processing capabilities, unleashing the potential of the increased volumes of high-resolution satellite data and other large datasets for forest biomass and carbon monitoring.    

Monitoring carbon fluxes on a large scale is a prerequisite for viable compliance and voluntary carbon markets. Reliable online tools will help policy-makers shape better decisions based on more accurate data. This will support policy implementation on national and international levels through improved reporting and verification capabilities. Companies require means to respond to increasing carbon monitoring requirements, and tools to assess carbon resources and carbon trading. Commercial forest carbon monitoring services can be offered for private sector along institutional forest monitoring activities.

The outcomes of this project will assist and promote carbon accounting, which will influence important environmental, economic and social decisions worldwide.

Technical goals and challenges

Several different approaches are integrated into the system to be able to meet the varying user requirements in varying conditions with varying datasets available. Optimal use of a wide range of Earth Observation data (Sentinel 1 and 2, ALOS PALSAR-2, GEDI, ICESat-2, NISAR and VHR data) together with field plots and airborne LiDAR data is defined in the context of a wide range of use cases and monitoring conditions. A particular point of interest is the development of statistically sound approaches for the accuracy assessment of forest carbon monitoring.

The monitoring tools are implemented on the Forestry TEP cloud processing platform following OGC Best Practices for Earth Observation Applications, forming the foundation for operational forest carbon services. Applicable services will also be made available as Docker based OGC Application Packages and offered through ESA Network of Resources portal (in due time). This will allow smooth implementation and use of the tools in any compatible platform.  

Key features of the concept and platform to be developed in the project include:

Close integration of field data and remotely sensed data.

Process-based forest ecosystem carbon modelling integrated into the system, allowing future inclusion of additional carbon flux and forecasting features.

Flexibility towards user requirements ranging from private company carbon balance monitoring to continental level analyses.

Main Drivers

Climate change, biodiversity loss, eutrophication, and pollution are some of the global environmental issues affecting forests and driving the need for change. As a consequence, carbon sequestration and carbon emission monitoring become crucial in the effort of reducing the impact of human activity.

Businesses and individuals in Europe are increasingly willing and able to pay for carbon credits, driving the need for trustworthy product certifications and overall higher visibility on the topic.

The regulatory landscape includes several recent policies requiring geospatial monitoring, i.e. the Paris Agreement, EU LULUCF Regulation, and the Renewable Energy Directive. At the same time, governments are willing to invest in high-tech solutions to mitigate and avoid carbon emissions’ negative impact and properly handle land-related CO2 fluxes.

Most organizations are now aware of the consequences for their brand if they do not adopt more sustainable business practices, and how customers recall their actions. For a forest carbon-credit market to be achievable, cost-effective carbon monitoring needs to be enabled at the level of forest estates at reasonable costs. Furthermore, there is the need to validate carbon impact to support claims and/or commitments.

New and cheaper technologies and an increasing time-series of images and data are becoming available, allowing to process high resolution satellite data. More and more technology-based products are desired, as they facilitate multiple data collection process and their cost-efficiency.


Forests are in a key role in the fight against climate change. Managed forests can restore increasing carbon stocks while simultaneously providing a sustainable supply of products, which are renewable, recyclable and have a smaller carbon footprint than several substitutes. In addition to carbon, the forests of the world are essential elements in maintaining healthy ecosystem interaction and biodiversity on Earth.

Several international and national initiatives require regular reporting of forest biomass and carbon. These include most importantly the initiatives related to the:

  • Paris Agreement of the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which involves sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases, including forests, and encourages action to support the REDD+ global climate change mitigation framework and incentive mechanism.
  • European Union’s LULUCF Regulation (2018/841), which represents the EU legislative framework for emissions and removals accounting from the land use sector for the period 2021-2030. The Regulation is the third pillar of EU climate action, alongside the EU Emissions Trading System and the Effort Sharing Regulation (2018/842).
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), where forests are important assets in reaching the objectives of particularly the goal 13: ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’. Forests are seen as one of the key assets in developed countries to increase carbon sinks.
  • EU Green Deal, which is expected to result in reforms in the policy environment, which will promote market-based mechanisms to enhance carbon sinks and land use in the forest sector. Certification schemes for carbon farming and carbon removals are expected to be formulated under the proposed EU New Forest Strategy for 2030.

In addition to government level actors, private companies from local businesses to global corporates are paying increasing attention to carbon neutrality and are looking at various ways to reduce and compensate their carbon footprint. There is an urgent need for related services, applications and solutions that will increase significantly in the coming years. 

Interested in knowing more about the project?