Today a new tool that throws a lifeline for the Earth's tropical forests was published – the HCS Approach Toolkit. It marks a paradigm shift from rampant development that sacrifices the forest and peoples' rights, to one where forest conservation goes hand-in-hand with responsible development.

There is now a long list of companies with No Deforestation commitments including: Nestle, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Mars, Johnson & Johnson, Mondelez, Golden Agri Resources (GAR), Asia Pulp and Paper, Wilmar, Cargill, and Musim Mas. With this rapid increase in commitments to No Deforestation came the need for an implementation methodology. The High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach evolved as the 'how to' in tropical forest regions.

Don't be confused by the name – the HCS Approach is not a carbon assessment – it rather uses estimates of carbon to help categorise vegetation and identify forests, in order to achieve No Deforestation during land use planning.

Aiming to simplify the process of achieving No Deforestation, the methodology was developed over the last four years by GAR, The Forest Trust (TFT) and Greenpeace, along with inputs from many other organisations, experts and scientists. We want to be able to distinguish between natural forest areas and degraded lands that now only contain small trees, shrubs and grasses. The approach uses a combination of satellite photos and field plots that measure trees to stratify the vegetation into 6 different classes. The top 4 strata are HCS forest and the lower two are degraded land.

HCS Illustration

Identifying HCS forest areas alone isn't enough to complete forest conservation planning. Land use maps made by communities are needed to ensure their gardens or tree crops aren't deemed areas to be conserved as HCS forest. Then HCS forest areas are analysed to come to a practical outcome that distinguishes land proposed for conservation from land proposed for development.

At this stage HCS forests are integrated with other important categories of land that can't be developed, including peatlands, streamsides, community reserves and sacred sites, and areas to protect High Conservation Values. Finally there is a Free Prior and Informed Consent process with customary communities to negotiate agreement on these conservation proposals.

The HCS Approach is now being implemented across millions of hectares of palm oil and pulp and paper concessions in Indonesia, Africa and Papua New Guinea, with several hundred thousand hectares of HCS forest that was at risk of clearance, now identified for conservation.

Results on the ground are showing that there is sufficient already degraded former forest land in Indonesia to continue expansion of plantations, without having to carry out further deforestation. Combined with the huge potential for productivity increases in existing plantations, particularly with independent smallholder palm oil farmers, it demonstrates that what is good for the environment can be good for business too. And this is not just for palm oil but other sectors too such as pulp and paper, rubber, and soya bean expansion.

It offers some hope for Indonesia bringing down both its high deforestation rate and levels of climate damaging greenhouse gas emissions, as well as for the communities and animals that rely on the forests.

Grant Rosoman is the Global Forest Solutions Project Coordinator for Greenpeace New Zealand, and interim chair of the HCS Approach Steering Group.