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Defining and protecting High Carbon Stock forests

Olam welcomes the ongoing efforts by the international conservation community to define and protect High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests. Since 2012 we have worked with independent scientists to measure the carbon stocks of our leases as part of our Environmental Impact Assessments and follow-up work, and we have supplied the data to the Government of Gabon to inform land use planning.

There are several key HCS initiatives in development that relate to Olam’s plantations. Firstly, it is necessary for Gabon to set out how it will deliver on its UNFCCC commitment to conserve HCS forests. Secondly, 2 major international multi-stakeholder groups comprising NGOs and businesses have been collating the evidence necessary to define HCS for palm plantations.

The first to publish was the HCS Approach Steering Group in April 2015 with the “HCS Toolkit”. This goes a long way to defining ‘viable forest areas’ but is “designed for use in fragmented forest landscapes and mosaics”. Such a landscape is not typical of Gabon. We believe that HCS, HCV and FPIC are interlinked and complementary concepts and that a context-suitable HCS process is needed for much more highly forested nations such as Gabon.

In December 2015, the High Carbon Stock+ (HCS+) Science Study was launched following independent testing of its methodologies in Olam Palm and the Government of Gabon’s Mouila plantations, demonstrating the potential viability of carbon neutral, equitable and transparent plantations. The methodology seeks a holistic approach that achieves carbon neutrality and protects biodiversity, ensures socio-economic benefits for local communities and achieves economic viability.

As part of the rigorous testing by the independent HCS+ Technical Committee led by Sir Jonathon Porritt and Dr John Raison, Olam put forward its oil palm operations in Gabon to “assess the feasibility of the HCS+ methodology in real world conditions”, particularly for those countries such as Gabon that have extensive forest cover.

In the second half of 2015 the Technical Committee successfully tested the HCS+ methodology in Gabon against 3 main areas:

  • Delineating HCS forests and soils
  • Estimating the carbon balance of the concessions when applying the principle of carbon neutral development that includes the protection of set-aside HCV and HCS forests; and
  • Reviewing Olam’s socio-economic approach and comparing it to the recommendations of the HCS+ socio-economic methodology.

The results demonstrated that it is technically possible to create carbon neutral plantations, even in a heavily forested country like Gabon. In the case of Olam, based on its historic data, the methodology estimates that the Mouila plantations will fix around 1.3 million tonnes of carbon (4,8 million tonnes CO2 equivalent) over the first 25 year rotation.

This is due to the plantations being mainly in savannah grassland (palm plantations contain far more carbon than grasslands), and to the large areas of logged forest which have been set aside in HCV areas (over 50% of Olam’s total concession area) that are expected to fix large quantities of carbon as they regenerate and recover under the active protection of Olam’s management. This approach is key to the HCS methodology – rather than avoiding or given back HCV concession areas, oil palm companies are rewarded for effective conservation efforts, helping to prevent illegal logging and maintain carbon stocks.

Dr Christopher Stewart, Head of Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability comments:

“We are pleased to have been the first company to field-test the HCS+ methodology in our own plantations, and to have been able to contribute to this important study. From the very beginning it has been our aim to develop oil palm plantations that respect traditional rights and protect biodiverse, high conservation value forests and, of course, high carbon stock forests.

“While the debate continues around an HCS definition that can be applied across all growing countries, Olam now has a robust methodology to minimise or even eliminate any negative climate impacts of our own plantations. We hope that the advocates of zero-deforestation, forest conservation and carbon neutral agriculture will eventually converge on a single HCS framework so that the whole of the industry can work towards an objectively verifiable goal of 100% sustainable palm oil. In the meantime, we will continue to support the science underpinning HCS methods and the land use policies required in Gabon to achieve our commitment to forest conservation.”

The Olam HCS+ case study is published as an Appendix to the Independent Report of the Technical Committee. See pages 76 – 101.

More information on Olam’s Sustainable Palm Oil Policy can be found here.