Quantifying the causes of deforestation and degradation and creating transparent REDD+ baselines: A method and case study from central Mozambique

Casey M. Ryan*, Nicholas J. Berry, Neha Joshi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reductions in deforestation and forest degradation are advocated as a means to mitigate climate change. The formulation and implementation of policies to achieve such reductions requires an understanding of current and historic land-use change and associated greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, it is often proposed that any reduction in emissions be measured against a reference scenario that describes future land-use in the absence of intervention. However, the information needed to progress this agenda is rarely available, as robust data on the extent and causes of land-use change, and the associated changes in carbon stocks, are sparse, particularly in African woodlands. Here we present a novel method for obtaining such information by combining data from radar remote sensing and ground surveys with a simple aspatial model. Using this approach we quantify changes in woody biomass and investigate the land-use activities that caused these changes in a 7500km2 area of Manica province, Mozambique. We use the data to construct a model linking the activities causing biomass loss to hypothesised drivers, allowing the definition of future scenarios. Within the study area, biomass was lost at a rate of 2.8±1.9% per year, with stocks changing from 19.4±0.9TgC in 2007 to 17.6±0.9TgC in 2010. Small-scale agriculture was the direct cause of 46±17% of the total biomass loss, followed in magnitude by construction and miscellaneous activities (24±11%), charcoal production (18±9%), logging (9±5%) and commercial agriculture (3±2%). Uncertainties remain on the biomass accumulated by regrowing vegetation. Extrapolating into the future, a scenario that includes projected population growth shows 41% of biomass being lost from 2010 to 2020 (a loss of 7.2TgC). A scenario of intensive policy interventions gives reduced losses of 3.8TgC by factoring in improvements in crop yields, charcoal production efficiency, and sustainable timber harvesting. Our case study demonstrates the importance of low intensity losses of biomass in African woodlands, and highlights the broad range of activities that will need to be addressed to develop locally appropriate mitigation actions. The simple modelling framework allows for the transparent creation of scenarios in data sparse areas, which could be used as local or national reference emissions levels under REDD+.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-54
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Geography
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Charcoal
  • Deforestation
  • Degradation
  • Logging
  • Radar
  • Reference levels


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