When Greenpeace campaigns pressure the companies and governments responsible for destroying our forests for palm oil, paper and other commodities, to commit to protecting them instead, we need to be able to tell them how to identify and conserve these forests and why. Defining deforestation is complex, as it has to factor in carbon and climate, biodiversity and local communities. However, the urgency to halt deforestation increases every day as more of our irreplaceable forests are destroyed.
The question then is how to define forest areas for protection? When is a forest so degraded that it will not regenerate on its own? The HCS approach can answer both of these questions.
Identifying High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests
For the last three years Greenpeace, together with The Forest Trust (TFT) and Indonesian palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), have been pioneering a way to distinguish natural forest areas from degraded lands (former forest) that now only has small trees, shrubs or grasses remaining - the High Carbon Stock (HCS) approach. HCS areas are forests that store a lot of carbon that would be released if converted into a plantation for instance, as well as containing important biodiversity values. This approach is designed to stop the further conversion of forests, protect and restore viable areas of natural forests within developments in the tropics such as palm oil and pulp plantations, as well as ensuring that the current and future land use rights and livelihoods of local communities are respected.
The first step in identifying and conserving HCS forest areas was to devise a scientifically robust methodology, including several expert reviews and stakeholder consultations. The HCS approach separates vegetation into 6 different levels (strata), with the top 4 levels being considered HCS.
The HCS approach uses a combination of high quality satellite pictures of a forest concession and ground plots that measure the trees for a first assessment of what is potentially HCS forest. These potential forest areas are then analysed and sorted to create a plan of HCS forest for conservation, including areas set aside for community food cultivation, and incorporating peat land and areas of High Conservation Value (HCV) into one conservation plan. At the same time, it identifies degraded areas that can be developed to balance out economic needs. The community needs to give their consent for the HCS conservation, just as they do for any areas that are planted.
The HCS approach combines carbon and biodiversity conservation, as well as community rights and livelihoods. Only areas that contain low carbon, such as shrub and grassland could be considered for conversion into plantations. This means that areas with young regenerating forest and secondary forest, which contain more carbon and biodiversity, are tagged for conservation.
The next step was to devise a process and develop a plan for protection of these areas. Crucial to this process is the role of local communities and governments. Local communities need to be fully involved in the identification of areas that should be protected. Forest conservation and development need to go hand in hand, with the Forest Conservation policy providing livelihoods to local communities while protecting forested areas.
Support for the HCS approach and next steps
The HCS approach, first developed in Indonesia, has subsequently been adopted by Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), Golden Verolium Liberia in Africa, and companies that are members of the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG). It is also referenced in a growing number of policy commitments, e.g. from other large suppliers and consumers of palm oil such as Wilmar, Unilever, Nestlé, L’Oréal, Delhaize, Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble. The HSC approach is now being implemented in other tropical forest regions outside Indonesia including Papua New Guinea and Africa.
Greenpeace calls on all companies involved in the trade and production of palm oil to commit to No Deforestation and implement a Forest Conservation Policy that protects forests and peat land areas while also respecting the rights of indigenous people and local communities. The HCS approach, combined with a robust HCV assessment and the consent of the local community, can be used to define and protect tropical rainforest within palm oil and pulp & paper concessions. For this process to work Greenpeace calls on companies to implement an immediate moratorium on any clearance of potential HCS forest areas and all peat land areas.