The human population is still growing and needs space and resources. It is, therefore, not easy to reconcile development, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation efforts. Which areas can be allocated for development and what should be off-limits to conserve forests and biodiversity? And how do we ensure that stakeholders, including governments and the private sector, respect minimum standards for land use planning processes?
Two tools are relevant here: one is the High Carbon Stock Approach, a new global methodology that helps answer such questions and implement No Deforestation commitments. It’s a land use planning tool focused on achieving No Deforestation. It integrates social considerations—local community customary rights, livelihoods and needs, high conservation values, peatlands, riparian zones and plantation operational aspects.
The other assessment tool is the High Conservation Values Approach. It focuses on biodiversity conservation rather than climate change mitigation. However, this approach does not address deforestation in degraded low-to-medium-density natural forests.
“I would strongly encourage both approaches to be used in parallel,” says Johannes Refisch, coordinator of UN Environment’s Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP). You can easily have areas which rank high on high carbon stock and low on high conservation values and vice-versa but they are worth protecting.”
Refisch points to a recent study on sustainable palm oil cultivation in Gabon which called for the application of both approaches (Austin et al, 2017).
In November 2017, proponents of the two approaches agreed to launch the Integrated Manual to address both issues in parallel.
Over 25 global organizations support the High Carbon Stock Approach
Members of the High Carbon Stock Approach are organizations which are committed to No Deforestation: plantation companies (such as New Britain Palm Oil Limited and Wilmar), commodity users (such as Unilever, Nestle and Procter & Gamble), non-governmental organizations (such as World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and Forest People Program), technical support organizations (such as Rainforest Alliance, The Forest Trust and ProForest), and smallholder groups. The initiative is also developing partnerships with the USAID – Bijak Program, World Resource Institute, World Cocoa Foundation and others.
Though starting with just a few, the number of members has now reached 27 global organizations and is still growing.
UN Environment supports the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, which recently endorsed the approach.
“In November 2018, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil made a big leap forward to address deforestation by requiring the High Carbon Stock Approach in its certification standards, and as further recognition, the French Government has referenced High Carbon Stock Approach in their importing deforestation strategy,” says prominent zero deforestation campaigner and High Carbon Stock Approach Advisor Aida Greenbury.
This underlines the links between the High Carbon Stock Approach and the UN-REDD Programme, a joint programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, and UN Environment to fight deforestation and forest degradation.
The approach also enables land use managers to better protect peatlands and is aligned with the aims of the Global Peatland Initiative. The initiative supports the sustainable use of peatlands, in particular tropical peatlands, one of the most carbon intense landscapes in the world.
The Great Apes Survival Partnership has been working with Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and partners to assist great ape range states in Africa to direct palm oil cultivation to degraded lands and to avoid deforestation. Tropical peatlands are home to important populations of orangutans and Western lowland gorillas.
Initially only supported by member fees, in the last two years the United Kingdom Department for International Development’s Partnership for Forests has lent a hand. To date, over half a million hectares of High Carbon Stock forests have been identified and are in the process of being conserved.
“We have been working with the High Carbon Stock Approach in the development of the Smallholder Guideline. I am proud that our union members are working hard to ensure that their practices are free from deforestation,” says Mansuetus Darto, the National Coordinator of Indonesia’s Palm Oil Smallholder Union.
The approach—initially developed by the Forest Trust, Greenpeace and private sector players—allows agricultural or plantation development to reduce its environmental impact by not clearing forests that are important to local communities or have high carbon or biodiversity values.
“The real strength of the approach is that it captures forest restoration processes well, in particular in tropical peatlands,” says Johan Kieft, a UN Environment forest ecosystems specialist.
Nearly 500 companies vow to address commodity-driven deforestation
Today, close to 500 global companies have made public commitments to address commodity-driven deforestation. In general, these commitments include the protection of high conservation values, high carbon stock forests, peatland and the rights of local communities through the implementation of free and prior informed consent.
There is no absolute carbon threshold in defining High Carbon Stock forests—it’s rather based on vegetation structure and density.
In May 2017, The High Carbon Stock Approach released its Toolkit Version 2.0, a new and unified global methodology for protecting natural forests and identifying lands for responsible commodity production.
“I welcome the launch of the High Carbon Stock Toolkit to support the enabling condition to achieve our government's National Determined Contribution target,” said Kindy Rinaldy Syahrir, Deputy Director for International Cooperation and Climate Change Finance at the Ministry of Finance of Indonesia at the time.
“More work still needs to be done but the approach succeeds because it is practical and involves multi-stakeholder-based collaboration,” says Kieft.