The Work of HCSA Peer Reviewers

HCSA assessment teams investigate how deforestation commitments are being implemented by companies, supply chains and local communities on the ground. Peer reviewers are independent experts who verify the work of the assessment teams and submit the report to the HCSA Secretariat and its members. 

As HCSA assessments represent the cornerstone of our work, peer reviewers carry out a vital final examination of deforestation requirements as stipulated in the Toolkit – from verifying satellite mapping data, to assessing on-the-ground field surveys and local community and Indigenous Peoples’ land and working rights. 

Tropical Forestry and conservation specialist at Ekologika, Neville Kemp is an HCSA peer reviewer and member of the Executive Committee as the Technical Support Organisation’s representative gives an insight into what the work involves.

Q: What kind of experience do you need?

Assessments are divided into specific categories. The HCSA review template is split into six portions but in general, the assessments have socially, biodiversity, remote sensing and forestry inventory components – you can work on individual components based on your strengths.

The social sections are focused on how the assessment applies the HCSA Social Requirements such as community rights and land use, free, prior and informed consent, and food security. The reviewer must judge if the assessor has engaged communities adequately and documented information relating to the use of land, mapped areas that are important to the community and gained the support and agreement of communities to implement the HCS Approach in their area. The reviewer must also assess any social impact assessments that have been carried out to understand the potential impact of developments and how this affects the HCS assessment.

For biodiversity aspects of the HCS assessment, this focuses on a review of High Conservation Value (HCV) assessments that may have been conducted in the area and understanding how they will affect the HCS assessments as both surveys are combined in the final Integrated Conservation and Land Use Plan (ICLUP). Often HCV areas will align with High Carbon Stock forests so ecological and sustainable landscape knowledge, such as understanding connectivity or important species in the area is important.

For the forest inventory components of HCS assessments, you will need a background in forest inventory and how to calculate timber volumes or biomass that can be converted to a carbon stock. Basic forest inventory training usually covers this. 

Another important aspect of the work is how to interpret Spatial Data with the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). You do not need to be a GIS operator per se, but need to know how to read and interpret spatial data to critically analyse the results compared to the raw satellite images. You need to be able to translate the satellite image with your knowledge of forests and land cover classification on the ground in the areas that you know. For example, my area of expertise is South East Asia, so in those two areas I’d be able to look at an image and identify forests, areas of degraded vegetation, oil palm plantations etc. all from eye-balling a satellite image and flag any inaccuracies in land cover results that have been supplied by the assessment team.

Q: Can you do this work anywhere in the world?

You don’t have to have a knowledge of the area that’s being mapped, but you need to have a knowledge of the region. 

No fieldwork is done.  It is a complete desktop review with the full data set provided by the assessor and the reviewer applying knowledge and understanding of the region.

Contextual knowledge is very important when specific regional issues arise. For instance, differentiating between regenerating forest and ‘jungle rubber’ is complex and a common issue in Indonesia. The review must be aware of region complexities such as this and determine if sufficient data has been provided to give accurate results in the assessment.

Q: Why choose this work?

Ensuring the rigorous application of the HCSA Toolkit to identify viable forests helps to conserve them for the future.

An HCSA reviewer can be a useful credential and may attract clients looking for HCS assessors or advice in sustainability and forest conservation.  For someone wanting to learn, reviewing other assessments is beneficial and improves your own practices by analysing other assessors’ examples.

If people want to further their careers and be known as an expert in forest inventory, the High Carbon Stock Approach is incredibly well respected.  If you get involved with this work, you’re basically keeping your eyes on the forest – you are conserving the forests in perpetuity”.

Ensuring the rigorous application of the HCSA Toolkit to identify viable forests helps to conserve them for the future.  

There are advantages for people who want to further their careers and be acknowledged as an expert in the HCS approach.  An HCSA reviewer can be a useful credential and may attract clients looking for HCS assessors or advice in sustainability and forest conservation. For someone wanting to learn, reviewing other assessments is beneficial and improves your own practices by analysing other assessors’ examples.

For details about peer reviewing roles – please see here.