Value of world’s forest carbon underestimated by more than 20%

Carbomap’s analysis of Costa Rican forest demonstrates a possible $800 billion shortfall and need for better carbon accounting

Carbomap today announced that it has completed a three-dimensional carbon map of a forested region in Costa Rica. The map reveals that the actual carbon content is 22% higher than published values using traditional satellite methods of measuring forest carbon.

Estimated using approved methodologies by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the global forest carbon stocks are understood to contain 638 billion tonnes of carbon, which may be valued at more than $3.8 trillion (using an average price of $6 per tonne of carbon).


Underpinning any carbon credit trading is the need for accurate carbon stock calculations. Carbon stock calculations and their ongoing verification can therefore represent significant costs within any carbon trading transaction, and accuracy is important.

The data collected by Carbomap shows that the value of protecting global forest carbon could be being significantly underestimated, potentially by as much as $800 billion.

In collaboration with the Global Conservation Standard, Carbomap used data collected by NASA’s experimental LVIS airborne laser scanning system to better estimate the above-ground carbon stocks in a project area. This is the first time that fully volumetric LiDAR data of this kind has been used as a tool for valuing forest carbon.

Using satellite-collected data from existing scientific studies, the forested area in Costa Rica was estimated to contain between 14.4 and 16.3 million tonnes of carbon. However, using the more detailed information available from the airborne LVIS system, Carbomap estimates the same area to contain at least 19.8 million tonnes of carbon.


“We have developed a unique processing tool that allows us to extract very detailed information about the forest and we have found that the total above-ground carbon content was 22% higher than the average of the satellite estimates,” said Prof. Iain Woodhouse, Founder and CEO, Carbomap. “Satellite data cannot provide information on the vertical dimension of the forest, such as canopy height and layering, which are crucial to accurate measurement of the carbon, the biodiversity and the underlying ground surface.”

In addition to the clear economic benefits from sustainable timber, countries around the world are increasingly looking to protect their forest assets and reduce deforestation through UNFCC initiatives such as the REDD-plus framework. To date, $14.5 billion has already been pledged to support initiatives under the programme.

Multiscale mapping of forests (not to scale)

Multiscale mapping of forests (not to scale)

In order to quantify the financial value of the carbon stored in the forests, for the benefit of forest carbon investors, and certification schemes, more than $2.7bn is already spent annually on forest monitoring. Currently, the most common methods of measuring forests are ground-based measurement, analysis of satellite data or single-colour airborne laser scanning.

“It’s very important to forest asset owners that they are able to accurately value the carbon content of their forests and we have shown with this exercise that estimates based on satellite data are well below the actual carbon value of forests,” said Prof. Woodhouse.

Four stages  - collecting data

Four stages – collecting data

“Our technology could be considered like an MRI scanner for forests, and provides even better carbon measurement capabilities than NASA’s LVIS system”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s