What is the High Carbon Stock Approach?

Photo: Paul Hilton – RAN

The High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA) began as a practical tool to identify and protect tropical forests under threat from agricultural expansion. 

The ‘High Carbon Stock’ in our name refers to high concentrations of carbon contained in the vegetation and soils of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests. 

Conserving these forests plays a critical role in mitigating climate change as they absorb and store huge volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  

But conserving irreplaceable HCS forests is just one of several critical aspects of the High Carbon Stock Approach.  It is in essence an approach to facilitate collaborative, participatory decision-making about land use and conservation in tropical landscapes. It offers multi-layered, interconnected land use planning to identify and protect HCS forests, ecosystems and biodiversity; cultural, social and economic values of land, and respects the rights of forest communities to their lands – and their right to give or withhold consent to commercial development.

The HCSA is used by plantation companies, farmers, global suppliers and consumer brands to implement ‘No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation’ commitments that they have made. The requirements and guidance to apply the approach are set out in the HCSA Toolkit.

The HCSA was instigated and developed by our members and the Toolkit is applied by HCSA member companies. Through the forward-thinking, collective leadership of HCSA members, the methodology continues to be developed and improved to maintain relevance and scale its impact to halt and reverse commodity-driven deforestation.

The HCSA began as a practical, credible tool to end commodity-driven deforestation - it continues to adapt and change based on the best thinking and experience of the companies, NGOs and experts who use it

What is High Carbon Stock Forest?

The HCSA methodology provides six classifications of land based on vegetation structure and density to identify the High Carbon Stock (HCS) forest areas to be protected and also the degraded land with low carbon and biodiversity values that may be developed.

The amount of carbon and biodiversity stored within an area of land varies according to the type of vegetative cover. The HCSA stratifies six different classes using analyses of satellite data and ground survey measurements. These classes are: High Density Forest, Medium Density Forest, Low Density Forest, Young Regenerating Forest, Scrub and Cleared/ Open Land. Each class is validated through calibration with carbon stock estimates in the above-ground tree biomass and field checks.

Applying the HCSA affects peoples’ lives. Of critical importance is to identify areas with low levels of carbon and low biodiversity values that could be suitable for development.

Development can offer opportunities to sustainably support local economies and improve livelihoods and food security – providing the rights of forest communities to give or withhold their consent has been respected throughout the process.

Photo: Saturi, rattan business owner, Tanjung Jariangu village, Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Next steps - applying and scaling the HCSA for new landscape levels and commodity crops

The HCSA is working with members and partners to complete final stages of the Simplified HCS-HCV Approach for Smallholders in Indonesia. This is a joint initiative involving a series of trials, adaptations and feedback from smallholders and small-scale farmers. Its purpose is to empower smallholders to eliminate deforestation risk from their practices and develop long-term conservation plans that can be managed and monitored. The findings and data collected from these trials also inform the development of a global simplified HCSA approach for smallholders that can be applied to any commodity and used in any region of the world.

Large-scale landscape level mapping initiatives are being conducted by HCSA members and partners in key tropical regions. The maps are an important tool to facilitate the implementation of HCSA’s large-scale landscape and jurisdictional approaches and smallholder approach and will assist small farmers, small to medium size enterprises, government land managers and third-party suppliers in the palm oil, pulp and paper and other forest-risk commodity sectors. The HCSA Large-scale Mapping Framework Procedure was completed in 2023 and is available to download here.

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