What is a forest?

To apply ‘no deforestation’ commitments, companies need to define what is meant by ‘forest’. The HCS Approach provides a tool for doing this.

It seems a straightforward commitment — to eliminate deforestation from commodity supply chains. But in order to implement such ‘no deforestation’ commitments, we need first to define what is the forest that shouldn’t be deforested. And that turns out to be more complex than you might imagine.

The High Carbon Stock (HCS) concept aims to provide this clarity. Fundamentally, it aims to distinguish forest areas that should be protected as part of ‘no deforestation’ commitments, from non-forest areas that could be considered for conversion to oil palm or other agricultural commodities. It uses remote sensing technology and field measurements to identify patches of natural forest that are then further analysed to define ‘viable forest areas’ for protection.

Schematic of the HCS threshold approach to distinguish forest from non-forest land. From High Carbon Stock Approach Brochure, December 2016 (www.highcarbonstock.org)

Bringing together different approaches

Alternative approaches have been put forward, using different classifications of forest, and different parameters in the analysis. A single, agreed methodology was needed so companies could move forward on ‘no deforestation’ with confidence.

Building on two different approaches to the question, the HCS Convergence Working Group successfully led a process in 2016 to agree a single methodology. The converged HCS Approach offers this single, coherent set of rules for companies to implement their ‘no deforestation’ commitments.

What does it deliver?

The converged HCS Approach provides a unified framework for identifying forest and other areas that should not be converted to agricultural use. It currently applies to agricultural development in fragmented, moist tropical forest landscapes. Key requirement of the approach are:

  • Conversion should be restricted to low carbon scrubland and open land.
  • Primary forests, forests subject to moderate levels of logging disturbance and older secondary forests should be protected.
  • Young regenerating forest (YRF) should be protected in line with the patch analysis decision tree.
  • There must be a rigorous assessment and protection of all High Conservation Values (HCVs).
  • Robust processes are needed to ensure there is Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of local communities that recognises their rights and interests.
  • Peatlands must be identified and protected.

What next?

The converged HCS Approach is a major step forward. Companies now have a clear, agreed way to move forward on their ‘no deforestation’ commitments.

As 2017 progresses, there’s more work to be done to further improve the approach. This includes developing an integrated assessment methodology for identifying HCVs, HCS forest and ensuring compliance with FPIC. Making the HCS Approach accessible for smallholders and incorporating best practices for social requirements are also key aims for 2017. And moving beyond the current scope of fragmented landscapes, further work is underway to develop guidance for using the HCS Approach in high forest cover landscapes. Here, HCVs and HCS forest are so extensive that the current HCS methodology would preclude any commercially viable agricultural development.

By the end of 2017, we look forward to a comprehensive approach to guide companies in their agricultural developments.

For more information, download our latest briefing note The High Carbon Stock Approach: an update.

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