A Forest Reference Emission Level (FREL) is one of the four elements of REDD+, according to the decisions of the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It sets a benchmark– or reference – of the amount of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) that a country has released from their forests into the atmosphere in the recent past.
Benchmarks are important in order to measure performance.A country can compare future GHG emissions against the FREL to determine whether they have succeeded in reducing them by implementing a REDD+ strategy. Every year, before a January deadline, the UNFCCC invites countries to submit a FREL and undergo a Technical Assessment (TA) process. During the TA process, the national team responsible for developing the FREL discusses the document with a group of international experts over several months, so that the team can identify problems and potential improvements, and revise the FREL accordingly. In January 2018 Myanmar submitted a FREL for the first time and began the TA process. The FREL submission is now available on the UNFCCC website, here.
This is an important step for Myanmar on the path to participating in the REDD+ mechanism. But it is just the beginning of a process that will require continuous attention from the Forest Department and technical experts, as well as a programme of skills development and building links between the technical aspects of FREL and the political and institutional aspects of the national REDD+ strategy.
A FREL is an essential pre-requisite for a country to access Results-Based Payments (RBPs) under the international REDD+ mechanism, for example through the pilot RBP programme recently initiated by the Green Climate Fund (GCF). However, in addition to this, Myanmar’s FREL can be seen as an objective way to measure progress in line with national policy goals, as well as the new commitments set out in Myanmar’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement.
A FREL does not need to be very precise. Even the very best FREL’s are simply estimates; the real situation of deforestation, degradation and forest restoration around the country is, of course, very complex. But it is very important that a country understands how accurate the FREL is, what needs to be done to improve the accuracy and describe the next steps. In Myanmar’s case, the current FREL provides an estimate only for the rate of deforestation at national level – the amount of forest area that is converted each year to other land uses.
However, now that the TA process can begin, substantial progress on the inclusion of further parameters is expected in the coming months. We can expect a revised FREL before the end of 2018, which will put Myanmar one more step closer to full REDD+ Readiness.