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Greenpeace Taps Big Data and Collaboration to Halt Deforestation

Words by Leon Kaye

As Indonesia seeks ways to grow its economy, product exports are one way to build cash reserves, create jobs and lift more of its 250 million citizens out of poverty. But environmental groups say industries such as pulp, rubber and palm oil cause a bevy of challenges, from human rights abuses to environmental degradation. The result could be irreversible damage from deforestation that also threatens Indonesia’s most profitable sectors.

Widespread fires, often lit to dry peatlands, are exacerbating this problem. It is easy for companies to say no to deforestation – the implementation of such plans, however, has often proven to become a difficult task.

Greenpeace, one of the NGOs that says it is aggressively tackling this crisis, worked with other stakeholders to come up with a long-term solution to Indonesia’s growing deforestation problem. The environmental activist group worked with other nonprofits, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies and Indonesia’s largest commodity producers to develop the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCS).

The HCS Approach is a methodology incorporating a wide array of scientific data to identify the world’s most valuable forests. With its current focus on Indonesia, HCS Approach practitioners can identify forests that are highly valuable and therefore should be designated for protection. On the other hand, areas that may have degraded over time -- and demonstrate low carbon or biodiversity values -- can be primed for development in order to harvest commodity crops.

The result is a tool for companies that are keen to enact change in their supply chains, but struggle to identify lands and companies with ties to deforestation. Companies can access HCS data to make sure they aren't using raw materials, such as palm oil, that come from dubious sources.

And despite its name, the HCS Approach is not just about carbon. HCS data can also give an idea about a forest’s biodiversity and vegetation density, as well as land-source planning and land rights tied to these regions. Companies that struggle with human rights abuses within their supply chains, for example, can tap into this data to ensure land use occurs within free, prior and informed consent protocols (FPIC) that grant local communities the right to vet companies and grant access to their ancestral lands.

Supporters of the HCS Approach include companies against which Greenpeace has long campaigned. And they say the methodology is scientifically credible, transparent, and can halt species loss and land rights abuses.

CPG companies involved with the HCS Approach include P&G and Unilever. They are joined by palm oil producers Wilmar, Musim Mas and Agropalma.

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) is one large Indonesian company that worked to develop the HCS Approach, along with Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rainforest Alliance. For APP, which is responsible for a supply chain that covers 2.6 million hectares (10,000 square miles), much of its involvement with the HCS Approach is about developing a legal framework. The company has held some of its concessions for nearly 30 years, but land rights cases can arise at any time, leaving the company and its suppliers scrambling to find solutions.

HCS data offers a tool by which companies like APP can compromise with local communities while preventing wayward suppliers and contractors from harvesting forests illegally. This data can also help provide local governments, which usually lack the resources to enforce laws, with the information they need to prevent illegal logging and tree-felling.

The threats to Indonesia’s forests are still daunting, but the HCS Approach is an example of how technology and “big data” can help solve this problem and allow stakeholders to work together.

Aida Greenbury, managing director of Sustainability at APP, is cautiously optimistic, as she explained to an audience at this week’s IUCN Congress in Honolulu. “It might be a long shot,” she said, “but those of us in the private sector can use these resources we now have at hand to work with governments to protect these forests.”

Image credit: Leon Kaye

Disclosure: Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) is funding Leon Kaye’s trip to Hawaii to cover the IUCN Congress. Neither the author, nor TriplePundit, were required to write about the experience. 

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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