Forest conservation: how we determine what to protect
In 2011 we took a ground-breaking step to decouple palm oil production from the destruction of forests by launching our Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) – the first palm oil company to do so. Today we continue that commitment in the GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP) and have pledged not to carry out any development on High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests and High Conservation Value (HCV) areas. What do these very technical-sounding terms mean?
In order to carry out conservation we need to be able to define what it is we are conserving. HCV and HCS are the criteria and methodology that enables us to identify areas that need to be protected to minimise social and environmental impacts stemming from development.
HCVs are biological, ecological, social or cultural values which are considered outstandingly significant or critically important, at the national, regional or global level. Under HCV we identify important areas such as orangutan habitats, sacred sites and other areas vital to local or indigenous residents. HCV is widely used by sustainable certification bodies such as the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and has been applied globally.
As wide-ranging as HCV is, it does not necessarily protect all forests unless they are primary forests or already classified as HCV. If forests which hold large stores of carbon are cleared or disturbed the carbon would be released, leading to increased emissions of greenhouse gases, ultimately contributing to more climate change. To address this, GAR pioneered the HCS approach with Greenpeace and TFT in 2011.
The HCS Approach website defines the HCS Approach as a methodology that distinguishes forest areas for protection from degraded lands with low carbon and biodiversity values that may be developed.
The approach is unique because it is currently the only methodology that provides a clear stratification of different types of vegetation for forest conservation. Using satellite photos and correlating with measurements of carbon in the biomass above ground, the strata are separated into High Density Forest, Medium Density Forest, Low Density Forest, Young Regenerating Forest, Scrub, and Cleared/ Open Land. The first four are considered potential HCS forests. Community land rights and uses are also mapped, and forest patches are analysed to identify viable forest areas for protection.
To kick off practical implementation, GAR launched a HCS pilot project in PT Kartika Prima Cipta (PT KPC), West Kalimantan in 2013. Beyond just identifying forest areas to conserve, we worked closely with all stakeholders on the ground including local government, community and NGOs as we recognised that their participation was crucial for success. We are now in the process of rolling out the approach to our other concessions.
Since we first started working on the HCS Approach with our partners, other companies including palm oil growers, consumer goods manufacturers and NGOs have signed up to support the approach – a very good sign for forest conservation. In August 2014 GAR joined the HCS Approach Steering Group comprised mainly of plantation companies and NGOs to further develop and standardise the HCS methodology. The result was the HCS Approach Toolkit published in April 2015 which guides companies interested in implementing this forest conservation approach.
As for GAR, we have currently identified and are committed to protecting around 75,000 hectares of HCV and HCS areas – quite possibly the highest amount of conservation area in the palm oil industry. Along the way, we’ve also learnt that identification of conservation areas is really only the first step in a long process to achieve sustainability and we continue to focus on innovative approaches that aim to get the community and other stakeholders to join us in conservation efforts.