Steering Group established to oversee the High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach for implementing ‘No Deforestation’ commitments

A group of leading plantation companies with commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, NGOs and technical support organisations met on 25th and 26th August in Singapore to establish a governance and standardisation body for the methodology, known as the High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach, to be used to implement these commitments.
The group will work together to demonstrate that immediate action can be taken to break the link between deforestation and high-risk commodities, such as palm oil and pulp and paper. The companies involved are Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), Cargill, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), Golden Veroleum Liberia, Wilmar and the producer members of the Palm Oil Innovation Group, Agropalma and New Britain Palm Oil. All have agreed to stop any further land clearing for plantations until High Carbon Stock assessments have been completed and management plans enacted to protect High Carbon Stock areas.

The international NGOs involved include Conservation International, Forest Heroes, Forest Peoples’ Programme (FPP), Greenpeace, National Wildlife Federation, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Alliance, Union of Concerned Scientists and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and as observers, The Nature Conservancy and World Resources Institute as well as the technical support organisations Daemeter, Proforest and The Forest Trust (TFT).

The HCS Approach is being developed as a tool to help companies and others implement commitments to end deforestation. The methodology to implement the approach aims to provide a practical and credible way to identify degraded areas suitable for plantation development and forest areas that merit protection to maintain and enhance carbon, biodiversity and social values. In practice the approach is to integrate HCS assessments with High Conservation Value (HCV) assessments, protection of peatlands, and processes to accommodate local communities’ livelihoods and aspirations, respect their rights to their lands and to give or withhold their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) to proposed developments.

The mission of the HCS Steering Group is ‘To ensure that there is a practical, transparent, robust, and scientifically credible approach that is widely accepted to implement commitments to halt deforestation in the tropics while ensuring that the rights, livelihoods and aspirations of local peoples are respected.’

The HCS Approach was first developed by Golden Agri Resources, TFT and Greenpeace in 2011. Since then, it has gained wider support from companies as part of a suite of actions to deliver on their commitments to prevent further deforestation. Various consumer companies including Mars, Nestle, Colgate Palmolive, Neste Oil and Unilever, refer to the HCS methodology in their responsible sourcing policies.

The group which met in Singapore nominated an HCS Steering Group to lead a process for further development and global standardisation of the HCS methodology. This includes seeking review and advice from a science committee and expert guidance based on a range of field trials. To assist its widespread adoption, the Steering Group will develop a process to ensure quality control of the use of the methodology, in coordination with institutions including the RSPO, FSC and the High Conservation Value Resource Network. The HCS Steering Group is also intending to reach out to other parties developing thinking on HCS assessments.

The initial Steering Group is comprised of the following organisations: NGOs FPP, Greenpeace and WWF; plantation companies: Agropalma, APP, GAR and Wilmar and the technical support company TFT. A ‘Consultative Forum’ will be formed to ensure that the Steering Group receives feedback from any interested stakeholder and can share progress of the HCS Approach. The Steering Group invites all relevant stakeholders to participate in this forum.

Joint statement by:

Conservation International / Forest Heroes / Forest Peoples’ Programme / Greenpeace /National Wildlife Federation / Rainforest Action Network / Rainforest Alliance / Union of Concerned Scientists / World Wide Fund for Nature / Agropalma / Asia Pulp and Paper / Cargill / Golden Agri-Resources / Golden Veroleum Liberia / New Britain Palm Oil / Wilmar / Daemeter / Proforest / The Forest Trust

The members of the Steering Group:

Agropalma / Marcello Brillo /
APP/ Aida Greenbury /
Forest Peoples Program / Patrick Anderson /
Golden Agri Resources / Peter Heng /
Greenpeace / Grant Rosoman /
The Forest Trust / Claire Adam /
Wilmar / Sharon Chong /
WWF/ Aditya Bayunanda /

Protecting high carbon stocks and high conservation values in palm oil – complementary or competing approaches?


The last two years have seen a rapid proliferation of sustainability commitments in palm oil. Alongside increasing numbers of producers committing to established certification schemes, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), leading supply chain actors are pledging to go beyond certification and source “No deforestation, No peat, No exploitation” palm oil. These events are proof that business is responding to consumer demands for change. But some have raised concern the trend risks causing confusion and loss of momentum, as decision-makers ponder which route to sustainability they should pursue. The emergence of High Carbon Stock (HCS) assessment as a complement to High Conservation Value (HCV) approaches for mitigating impacts illustrates the opportunities and challenges presented by recent trends. How doHCS and HCV differ? Are they alternative or complementary tools? How does committing to one effectively safeguard the other?

I suggest that HCS and HCV share much more in common than they differ, and over time should be combined into a single, integrated, transparent assessment tool for mitigating impacts of palm oil.

“The two concepts are closely interrelated, suggesting they could be combined into a single, comprehensive assessment tool”

Since 2007, HCV has served as the key provision for protecting forests and biodiversity under the RSPOstandard. Where robustly applied, HCVhas markedly reduced impacts of certified plantations, reducing intact forest clearance and peat land development for new plantations. In some cases, however, HCV assessors have recommended large-scale deforestation and peatland development, despite clear indications of severe impacts. High profile cases of this have led some groups to question HCV as a tool for achieving sustainability, and push instead for adoption of HCS, a newer concept that offers stricter, more explicit forest protections.

HCS and HCV are often portrayed as alternatives, but this overlooks their many commonalities. Both require mapping of current forest cover and condition, ground surveys to verify mapping and record social and environmental values, and direct consultation with local stakeholders to determine go and no-go areas for development. Because HCS is designed to protect forests, whereas HCV aims to maintain critical values, the management recommendations made by each will sometimes differ. But even so, final decisions for no-go areas under the HCSapproach require cross-referencing to HCV, and reconciliation of recommendations once completed. The two concepts are, therefore, in principle and in practice closely interrelated, suggesting they could be combined into single, comprehensive assessment tool. How can this be achieved?

Possibilities for combining HCS and HCV are twofold. The first instance suggests formally integrating HCS within the HCVframework, such as under the banner of Environmental Services embodied in HCV4. The second possibility would require HCSland cover mapping as a robust preparatory step that feeds intoHCV assessment.

Requiring HCS mapping as an input to HCV would enable field verification surveys for HCS and HCV to be combined, improving data quality and reducing costs. HCS and HCV findings would then be combined and reconciled to delineate go and no-go areas, an approach already being tested by producers committed to both HCS and HCV protection.

Integrating HCV and HCV would also enable both to be governed by the multi-stakeholder HCV Resource Network,, to formalise definitions and decision rules, standardise methodologies, license assessors and ensure transparent reporting. This would require investment to expand the Resource Network’s capacity to govern both tools, but such investments would be less costly than establishing a separate governance structure for HCS.

To assure all stakeholders that improved HCV, strengthened byHCS, will function more effectively, the RSPO could increase transparency by encouraging disclosure of both HCS and HCVmaps as part of the RSPO’s New Plantings Procedure (NPP) announcement. Combined with online platforms to monitor deforestation, this would enable drawing attention to questionable practices with shorter time lags.

Arguably, the challenge ahead for integrating HCS and HCV is more political than technical, as different stakeholders groups promote the two concepts. HCS developed as part of campaigns for zero deforestation supply chains as an alternative to certification, whereas HCV is linked directly to certification. This means uniting HCS and HCV into a single, comprehensive tool requires putting aside differences on certification versus supply chain approaches, and working together toward the shared goal of mainstreaming robust, transparent, credible assessment tools demanded by the market.

Integrating HCS and HCV will be challenging, but it is necessary to minimise duplication, avoid confusion and capitalise on growing momentum to achieve reform.

Gary Paoli

Gary Paoli is director of research and project development at Daemeter Consulting, an independent consulting firm promoting sustainable development through responsible and equitable management of natural resources. Daemeter is one of the Support Organisations involved in the HCS Approach Steering Group