The agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sectors contribute substantially to the net global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To reduce these emissions under the Paris Agreement, effective mitigation actions are needed that require engagement of multiple stakeholders. Emission reduction also requires that accurate, consistent and comparable datasets are available for transparent reference and progress monitoring. Availability of free and open datasets and portals (referred to as independent data) increases, offering opportunities for improving and reconciling estimates of GHG emissions and mitigation options. Through an online survey, we investigated stakeholders’ data needs for estimating forest area and change, forest biomass and emission factors, and AFOLU GHG emissions. The survey was completed by 359 respondents from governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, research institutes and universities, and public and private companies. These can be grouped into data users and data providers. Our results show that current open and freely available datasets and portals are only able to fulfil stakeholder needs to a certain degree. Users require a) detailed documentation regarding the scope and usability of the data, b) comparability between alternative data sources, c) uncertainty estimates for evaluating mitigation options, d) more region-specific and detailed data with higher accuracy for sub-national application, e) regular updates and continuity for establishing consistent time series. These requirements are found to be key elements for increasing overall transparency of data sources, definitions, methodologies and assumptions, which is required under the Paris Agreement. Raising awareness and improving data availability through centralized platforms are important for increasing engagement of data users. In countries with low capacities, independent data can support countries’ mitigation planning and implementation, and related GHG reporting. However, there is a strong need for further guidance and capacity development (i.e. ‘readiness support’) on how to make proper use of independent datasets. Continued investments will be needed to sustain programmes and keep improving datasets to serve the objectives of the many stakeholders involved in climate change mitigation and should focus on increased accessibility and transparency of data to encourage stakeholder involvement.