Operational Guidance on:
Applying the Definitions Related to Deforestation, Conversion, and Protection of Ecosystems
Purpose & Summary
This document explains how the Accountability Framework’s definitions related to deforestation, conversion, and the protection of ecosystems should be applied in practice. The main part of the document addresses several common questions that companies and other users may encounter related to setting, implementing,
and monitoring commitments. This information is supported by a visual representation of the deforestation and conversion concepts and by more detailed context-specific examples in the following three tables:
- Table 1 specifies how various types of sites that may be encountered in commodity-producing
landscapes would be classified according to the Accountability Framework’s definitions. It also
clarifies whether conversion of each such area to commodity agriculture or tree plantations would
violate no-deforestation or no-conversion commitments.
- Table 2 provides guidance on a range of “boundary cases” (sites that have attributes of both natural
ecosystems and production systems) to determine how they should be treated for the purpose of
fulfilling (or assessing fulfillment of) no-deforestation and no-conversion commitments.
- Table 3 specifies the relationship between the Accountability Framework’s definition of deforestation
and other key reference definitions. It also clarifies how the Accountability Framework’s definition may
be applied to help fulfill various existing deforestation-related goals, targets, or standards.
Users of the Accountability Framework are invited to bring forward other questions or scenarios on which they seek greater clarity. The AFi will work to address these through additional supplements to this document or in future versions of the Framework.
Topics in this Guidance
How do the Accountability Framework's definitions relate to localized definitions for specific countries, commodities, or other contexts? When do localized definitions prevail and when should the Accountability Framework definitions be applied directly?
The Accountability Framework’s definitions of forest, deforestation, natural ecosystems, conversion, and related terms are generic global definitions designed to apply broadly to most contexts. In many parts of the world, there are localized definitions that are congruent with the Accountability Framework’s definitions but provide greater context-appropriate specificity. Following are general guidelines on when companies should use a localized definition as the basis to implement or monitor their supply chain commitments:
- When recognized national, sector-wide, or context-specific definitions or land cover classifications exist and are compatible with key elements of the Accountability Framework’s definitions, they are generally considered to fulfill the Accountability Framework and may be used where applicable.
- “Recognized” definitions or land cover classifications include those that: a) are provided as part of national law; b) are reflected as part of a national monitoring system or other technically sound monitoring system; or c) have been developed through a technically robust multistakeholder process.
- Compatibility of forest definitions or land cover classifications with the Accountability Framework requires at least two elements. First, the definition or classification should include (or be able to identify) primary, secondary, and partially degraded natural forest. These are all types of natural forest that should be identified and protected as part of a deforestation-free supply chain. Second, the definition or classification should distinguish natural forest from tree plantations, since the Accountability Framework treats these differently for the purpose of deforestation-free supply chains. If the given definition or classification does not recognize this distinction, then company commitments and implementation and monitoring practices will need to incorporate this distinction when using such a definition or classification.
- Compatible definitions include many national or sub-national definitions used as the basis for government forest mapping products, forest monitoring, and REDD+ implementation, as well as definitions developed through legitimate non-state processes such as the High Carbon Stock Approach.
- When context-specific definitions are absent, contradictory, or unclear, the AFi recommends that the Accountability Framework’s definitions be used as the basis for establishing, implementing, and monitoring commitments. In these situations, the Accountability Framework’s definitions can also be used as a starting point to develop more nuanced context-specific definitions through government policy-setting, sector initiatives, or other processes.
- New and ongoing sector initiatives, policy frameworks, voluntary standards, and similar initiatives are encouraged to apply or adapt the Framework definitions to create context-specific definitions that align with the Framework’s common global approach.
Given where our company is operating, what definition of forest should we use to establish and implement our no-deforestation commitments?
Companies that operate across multiple contexts (e.g., producing, sourcing, or investing in multiple commodities and/or across multiple countries or biomes) should generally adopt the Accountability Framework’s common global definitions as the basis for setting, monitoring, and reporting on their no-deforestation commitments at a company-wide level. Companies that operate across multiple contexts may also wish to use context-specific definitions that align with the global Accountability Framework’s definitions to provide more nuanced or detailed specifications that guide commitment implementation or monitoring in particular contexts (e.g., specific commodity supply chains, countries, or biomes). Companies that operate only in one context may also wish to use context-specific definitions for the same reasons. The considerations described in the prior question/response detail should be used to determine which context-specific definitions align with the global Accountability Framework definitions.
What definition of forest should our company use in the Brazilian Cerrado if we have a no-deforestation commitment but not a no-conversion commitment?
Regardless of the company’s present commitment, the AFi recommends using the concept and definition of no-conversion, and the corresponding definition of natural ecosystem (vegetação nativa) to guide production, sourcing, and financial investments in the Brazilian Cerrado. The Cerrado is a mixed vegetation biome made up of a mosaic of forests, woodlands, and grasslands. Brazilian legislation and the official government monitoring system (Prodes Cerrado) do not distinguish forest from other types of native vegetation. Thus, attempting to distinguish forest from other native vegetation types in the Cerrado is both technically challenging and legally problematic. Consequently, the multi-stakeholder processes, in which market actors in Brazil and companies from beyond Brazil sourcing in the Cerrado are engaged, also make no distinction between forest and other types of native vegetation in the Cerrado.
The AFi further recommends that companies with an existing no-deforestation commitment replace it with a no-conversion commitment for the Cerrado, while companies that do not yet have a commitment for the Cerrado adopt a no-conversion commitment directly.
What is the value of the Accountability Framework’s global definitions if there are already localized definitions available in the context(s) where our company works?
The global definitions provide a clear basis to determine which localized definitions comport with generally accepted concepts of no-deforestation and no-conversion in supply chains. Global definitions also establish coherence and comparability among localized definitions so that these can be linked to common measures of progress and outcomes. For companies that source from multiple contexts, these applications facilitate a coherent global approach to no-deforestation and no-conversion sourcing that can be appropriately adapted to different commodities and regions, while at the same time enabling overall management and reporting relative to a global sustainability strategy.
What are some good ways to monitor deforestation and conversion in line with the Accountability Framework definitions? Are any existing monitoring tools capable of doing so?
Geospatial data, from satellite or other remote-sensing methods, are increasingly capable of detecting deforestation and conversion. When the scale of a given agriculture or forestry operation is large and its associated land use change entails a distinct conversion event (e.g., forest to row crop production, or forest to pasture), large-scale open source products such as Global Forest Watch are generally suitable to monitor deforestation in line with the Accountability Framework. When production systems are smaller-scale or exist in mosaic landscapes (e.g., many smallholder systems), or when land-use changes are less distinct (e.g., boundary cases described in Table 2), then specialized, finer resolution, or custom tools may be required. In either case, when remote-sensing based methods detect potential deforestation or conversion (or when findings are unclear), validation through site visits, on-the-ground mapping, document review, or interviews with key stakeholders may be required.