3.2.4 Practical considerations in choosing an integration tool
Developing an integration tool, even for the simpler activity data x emission/removal factor method, requires significant technical expertise and investment of time and money. As the tools will form the basis from which estimates are generated for international reporting they need to employ professional software development principles including internal checking, unit testing and version control.
For this reason, countries may opt to use existing tools rather than develop their own. Beyond technical and scientific considerations, there are also practical aspects to choosing an existing tool that must be considered. Changing frameworks can be a costly and time consuming task, so choosing the right one is a key design decision. Some aspects to consider in making this decision include:
- Long-term sustainability of the tool: MRV needs operate into the foreseeable future and therefore an integration tool should have a good chance of ongoing maintenance and development.
- Support for implementation: Users will require at least some support to implement integration tools. Although user manuals, tutorials and training workshops are helpful, by themselves they are unlikely to provide all of the information and advice required. It is useful for tools to have a program of support that can be easily accessed on an as-needed basis and an active user community.
- Flexibility and scalability: Decisions on what ground measurements and remote sensing data to collect and how to analyse them will be driven by the choice of integration framework and the emissions estimation methods to be used. The tool should not only meet short-term goals but be able to support planned future improvements. This could include tools that can support emissions factors but also allow for progression to Tier 3 methods.
There are three options for those wishing to use an integration tool.
- Use an existing tool
Existing tools cover the full range of Tiers and Approaches and will fit most country circumstances. Each tool has advantages and disadvantages that need to be carefully assessed prior to making any choice (Figure 8). These existing integration tools are largely generic calculators that allow use of country specific data. It is possible to use more than one of these tools for different parts of land use emissions estimation, especially in the context of full land sector inventory for UNFCCC reporting.
- Adapt an existing tool
There are many models and systems that could be adapted for emissions estimation. Adaptation of an existing tool must be in line with IPCC and UNFCCC requirements, similar to developing a new tool. The costs of adapting an existing tool need to be carefully considered, both in adaptation and maintenance. It will be important to be able to access either the code base or the developers who are responsible for the tool. If only one model is required (e.g., a soils model, DOM model etc.) it may be more suitable to use just the model in an existing integration tool.
- Develop a new tool
Although developing a new integration tool is possible, the costs need to be carefully considered, both in development and ongoing maintenance. Simple, excel-based tools are likely to be limiting, and unlikely to provide any benefit over existing tools. Specific coded tools are expensive to develop and require specific expertise to maintain. If a new tool is needed then it needs to be developed in line with IPCC and UNFCCC requirements.
It is possible to use a combination of these three approaches, in particular in early phases. For example, Indonesia’s INCAS integration framework uses a combination of existing tools for most components, but has developed some simple spreadsheet systems to cover peat emissions. However, it is planned to bring these together in the future in a single tool as part of continuous improvement.
Considerations at the decision points in the tree are as follows:
Decision Point 1: Do you want to move to Tier 3 now or in the future?
The stepwise approach is consistent with countries which move from lower to higher tiers as data and methods become available. Even if initially reporting at lower Tiers, if there is a desire to move to Tier 3 in the future it is advantageous to do this in the same framework. Moving between frameworks can be costly and time-consuming.
Decision Point 2: Do you want to run in a spatially explicit fashion?
One motivation for using remote sensing is to allow the tracking of units of land through time (IPCC Approach 3, spatially explicit). To do this requires tools that can use spatio-temporal data that combines time-series in a consistent way.
Decision Point 3: Do you want to move to Tier 2 immediately?
ALU supports Tier 1 and 2. The IPCC tool supports Tier 1 with plans to develop a IPCC tool that supports Tier 2.
Decision Point 4: Do you expect multiple land use changes on the same parcel of land in a conversion period?
Remote sensing may reveal many areas that have had multiple changes in land use over short periods. Estimating emission on lands where there have been multiple changes in land use unit is challenging when using Tier 1 or 2 methods especially where lagged effects are important, e.g. in the case of soil emissions.