Tropical natural forests hold large stores of carbon and biodiversity, and are critical for millions of indigenous and local peoples who depend on forests for their livelihoods. However, this carbon is released and biodiversity is lost when these forests are cleared – otherwise known as deforestation.The High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach is a methodology that distinguishes forest areas for protection from degraded lands with low carbon and biodiversity values that may be developed. The methodology was developed with the aim to ensure a practical, transparent, robust, and scientifically credible approach that is widely accepted to implement commitments to halt deforestation in the tropics, while ensuring the rights and livelihoods of local peoples are respected.
The amount of carbon and biodiversity stored within an area of land varies according to the type of vegetative cover. The HCS Approach stratifies the vegetation in an area of land into six different classes using analyses of satellite data and ground survey measurements. These six classes are: High Density Forest, Medium Density Forest , Low Density Forest , Young Regenerating Forest , Scrub, and Cleared/ Open Land. The first four classes are considered potential High Carbon Stock forests.
Each vegetation class is validated through calibration with carbon stock estimates in the above-ground tree biomass and field checks. Community land rights and uses are mapped, and the HCS forest patches are further analysed via a Decision Tree to identify viable and optimal forest areas for potential protection and areas for development.
The methodology respects local community rights through its integration with enhanced Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) procedures, and respecting community land use and livelihoods. It requires participatory community-land use planning and management, applies conservation planning tools to the identified HCS forest areas, and combines with mapped community land use, HCV, peatland and riparian areas to delineate areas for conservation, restoration, community land use, and/or areas potentially available for plantation development.
The HCS Approach is a breakthrough for plantation companies and manufacturers who are committed to breaking the link between deforestation and land development in their operations and supply chains. The approach represents the first practical methodology that has been tested and developed in active concessions in Asia and Africa with input from a variety of stakeholders. It is a relatively simple tool that plantation companies can use for new developments while ensuring that forests are protected from conversion.
Identification of HCS forests can also help governments fulfil commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from deforestation because it allows the mapping of forest areas that should be conserved (thus preventing GHG emissions).
As of November 2016, the HCS Approach includes a convergence with the HCS+ — meaning there is now only one global HCS methodology.