1. Deforestation, conversion, and protection of ecosystems

  • Compensation

    (In relation to environmental harms): Actions taken and/or funds made available to remedy or counterbalance deforestation, conversion, degradation, or other harms to ecosystems and their conservation values with environmental and/or social gains at sites other than those where the harms occurred.

    The term “compensation” is also used in the context of remediation of human rights harms, for which compensation may come in many forms. See the Operational Guidance on Remediation and Access to Remedy.

  • Conversion

    Change of a natural ecosystem to another land use or profound change in a natural ecosystem’s species composition, structure, or function.

    • Deforestation is one form of conversion (conversion of natural forests).
    • Conversion includes severe degradation or the introduction of management practices that result in substantial and sustained change in the ecosystem’s former species composition, structure, or function.
    • Change to natural ecosystems that meets this definition is considered to be conversion regardless of whether or not it is legal
  • Cutoff date

    (Related to no-deforestation and no-conversion commitments): The date after which deforestation or conversion renders a given area or production unit non-compliant with no-deforestation or no-conversion commitments, respectively.

  • Deforestation

    Loss of natural forest as a result of: i) conversion to agriculture or other non-forest land use; ii) conversion to a tree plantation; or iii) severe and sustained degradation.

    • This definition pertains to no-deforestation supply chain commitments, which generally focus on preventing the conversion of natural forests.
    • Severe degradation (scenario iii in the definition) constitutes deforestation even if the land is not subsequently used for a non-forest land use.
    • Loss of natural forest that meets this definition is considered to be deforestation regardless of whether or not it is legal.
    • The Accountability Framework’s definition of deforestation signifies “gross deforestation” of natural forest where “gross” is used in the sense of “total; aggregate; without deduction for reforestation or other offset.”
  • Degradation

    Changes within a natural ecosystem that significantly and negatively affect its species composition, structure, and/or function and reduce the ecosystem’s capacity to supply products, support biodiversity, and/or deliver ecosystem services.

    • Degradation may be considered conversion if it:
      • is large-scale and progressive or enduring;
      • alters ecosystem composition, structure, and function to the extent that regeneration to a previous state is unlikely; or
      • leads to a change in land use (e.g., to agriculture or other use that is not a natural forest or other natural ecosystem).
  • Forest

    Land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent, or trees able to reach these thresholds in situ.[1] It does not include land that is predominantly under agricultural or other land use. Forest includes natural forests and tree plantations. For the purpose of implementing no-deforestation supply chain commitments, the focus is on preventing the conversion of natural forests.

    • Quantitative thresholds (e.g., for tree height or canopy cover) established in legitimate national or subnational forest definitions may take precedence over the generic thresholds in this definition.
    • The Accountability Framework should not be interpreted as weakening or qualifying any protection or provision of national forestry laws, including when these laws apply to legally classed forests that are tree plantations or presently have little or no tree cover. As stated in Core Principle 3.4, company commitments are additional to applicable law, and when both apply to the same topic, the highest (more protective) standard prevails.
    • The AFi advocates that natural forests be distinguished from tree plantations for the purpose of conducting forest inventories and quantifying forest loss and gain. This will facilitate comparability between government forest monitoring and the tracking of supply chain commitments focused on human-induced conversion of natural forests.

     


    [1] Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), with further elaboration and clarification provided for the Accountability Framework.

  • Minimal level (of deforestation or conversion)

    A small amount of deforestation or conversion that is negligible in the context of a given site because of its small area and because it does not significantly affect the conservation values of natural ecosystems or the services and values they provide to people.

    • Minimal levels of deforestation or conversion at the site scale do not necessarily violate no-deforestation or no-conversion commitments. However, this provision does not sanction substantial conversion of forests or natural ecosystems to enlarge commodity production areas.
    • To be considered consistent with no-deforestation or no-conversion commitments, minimal levels must generally meet the following conditions:
      • Not exceed cumulative thresholds that are small both in absolute terms (e.g., no more than a few hectares) and relative to the area in question (e.g., no more than a small proportion of the site). Levels of conversion or deforestation should be assessed cumulatively over space and time; multiple small instances of conversion may lead to a producer being considered non-compliant with commitments.
      • Not result in the loss of important biological, social, or cultural values, for instance as defined by the High Conservation Value framework.
      • If planned in advance, be specified as a result of an integrated and participatory land-use planning process that follows good practices for achieving positive environmental and social outcomes (e.g., as specified in Core Principle 7).
      • If not planned in advance (e.g., if resulting from unauthorised encroachment or other unforeseen activities), are addressed through effective actions to prevent non-repetition and to remediate harms and restore lost conservation values to the extent necessary.
    • Even when minimal levels of deforestation or conversion may not be cause for exclusion from ethical supply chains, they may still require remediation (including restoration and/or compensation) to the extent that they result in negative impacts to conservation values or human rights.
  • Natural ecosystem

    An ecosystem that substantially resembles – in terms of species composition, structure, and ecological function – one that is or would be found in a given area in the absence of major human impacts. This includes human-managed ecosystems where much of the natural species composition, structure, and ecological function are present.

    • Natural ecosystems include:
      • Largely “pristine” natural ecosystems that have not been subject to major human impacts in recent history
      • Regenerated natural ecosystems that were subject to major impacts in the past (for instance by agriculture, livestock raising, tree plantations, or intensive logging) but where the main causes of impact have ceased or greatly diminished and the ecosystem has attained species composition, structure and ecological function similar to prior or other contemporary natural ecosystems;
      • Managed natural ecosystems (including many ecosystems that could be referred to as “semi-natural”) where much of the ecosystem’s composition, structure, and ecological function are present; this includes managed natural forests as well as native grasslands or rangelands that are, or have historically been, grazed by livestock
      • Natural ecosystems that have been partially degraded by anthropogenic or natural causes (e.g., harvesting, fire, climate change, invasive species, or others) but where the land has not been converted to another use and where much of the ecosystem’s composition, structure, and ecological function remain present or are expected to regenerate naturally or by management for ecological restoration.
  • Natural forest

    A forest that is a natural ecosystem.

    • Natural forests possess many or most of the characteristics of a forest native to the given site, including species composition, structure, and ecological function. Natural forests include:
      • Primary forests that have not been subject to major human impacts in recent history
      • Regenerated (second-growth) forests that were subject to major impacts in the past (for instance by agriculture, livestock raising, tree plantations, or intensive logging) but where the main causes of impact have ceased or greatly diminished and the ecosystem has attained much of the species composition, structure, and ecological function of prior or other contemporary natural ecosystems.
      • Managed natural forests where much of the ecosystem’s composition, structure, and ecological function exist in the presence of activities such as:
          • Harvesting of timber or other forest products, including management to promote high-value species
          • Low intensity, small-scale cultivation within the forest, such as less-intensive forms of swidden agriculture in a forest mosaic
      • Forests that have been partially degraded by anthropogenic or natural causes (e.g., harvesting, fire, climate change, invasive species, or others) but where the land has not been converted to another use and where degradation does not result in the sustained reduction of tree cover below the thresholds that define a forest or sustained loss of other main elements of ecosystem composition, structure, and ecological function.
    • The categories “natural forest” and “tree plantation” are mutually exclusive, though in some cases the distinction may be nuanced. Please see the Operational Guidance on Applying the Definitions Related to Deforestation, Conversion, and Protection of Ecosystems for further discussion of boundary cases.
    • For the purpose of corporate no-deforestation commitments, the focus is on preventing the conversion of natural forests.
  • Net deforestation

    The difference in forest area between two points in time, taking into account both losses from deforestation and gains from forest regeneration and restoration. Net deforestation is measured with reference to a given geographic area (e.g., a district, state, nation, or globe) and a given timeframe.

    • The Accountability Framework specifies that net deforestation is not an appropriate metric for characterising the forest and land-use footprint of company operations, supply chains, or investments. Rather, companies should utilise the concept of (gross) deforestation, as defined by the Accountability Framework in setting targets and monitoring outcomes.
    • This definition is provided here for context and completeness because it sometimes appears in the lexicon. Some have suggested that net deforestation may be a relevant concept for setting targets and informing land-use planning at the landscape, jurisdictional, or national scale, considering all sectors and all land uses together. To the extent that the net deforestation concept is used in these contexts, the AFi advocates that natural forests be distinguished and tracked separately from tree plantations for the purpose of quantifying forest loss and gain.
  • No-conversion

    (Synonym: conversion-free): Commodity production, sourcing, or financial investments that do not cause or contribute to the conversion of natural ecosystems (as defined by the Accountability Framework).

    • No-conversion refers to no gross conversion of natural ecosystems, which the Accountability Framework specifies as the appropriate policy and goal on this topic for companies and supply chains.
    • The terms “no-conversion” and “conversion-free” are used in favour of “zero-conversion” because “zero” can imply an absolutist approach that may be at odds with the need to sometimes accommodate minimal levels of conversion at the site level in the interest of facilitating optimal conservation and production outcomes (see definition for minimal level [of deforestation or conversion]).
  • No-deforestation

    (Synonym: deforestation-free): Commodity production, sourcing, or financial investments that do not cause or contribute to deforestation (as defined by the Accountability Framework).

    • No-deforestation refers to no gross deforestation of natural forests, which the Accountability Framework specifies as the appropriate policy and goal on this topic for companies and supply chains.
    • In the context of the Accountability Framework, deforestation refers to the loss of natural forest (see definition of deforestation).
    • The AFi recognises the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA) as a practical tool to implement no-deforestation in the tropics, in contexts where the tool has been validated.[2]
    • The terms “no-deforestation” and “deforestation-free” are used in favour of “zero deforestation” because “zero” can imply an absolutist approach that may be at odds with the need sometimes to accommodate minimal levels of conversion at the site level in the interest of facilitating optimal conservation and production outcomes (see definition for minimal level [of deforestation or conversion]).

     


    [2] For more information on the present application of this tool—including the contexts in which it is being applied, trialed, and prepared for trailing—see the HCSA application and trials dashboard and the 2018 advice note on application in different contexts .

  • Restoration

    (In relation to environmental harms): The process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem, and its associated conservation values, that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.

  • Target date

    The date by which a given company (or other commitment- or policy-issuing entity) intends to have fully implemented its commitment or policy.

  • Tree plantation

    Tree plantation: A forest predominantly composed of trees established through planting and/or deliberate seeding that lacks key elements of a natural forest native to the area, such as species composition and structural diversity.

    • Tree plantations generally have one or a few tree species and tend to include one or more of the following characteristics:
               i)    planted on cleared land
               ii)   harvested regularly
               iii)  trees are of even ages
               iv)  products from the plantation are managed and processed for commercial production
    • Tree plantations can consist of trees planted for timber, pulp, non-timber forest products (e.g., rubber latex), or ecosystem services (e.g., soil stabilisation). Plantations dominated by agricultural species (e.g., fruits or oil palm) are considered agriculture, not tree plantations.
    • There exist a range of “boundary cases” where sites have some characteristics of tree plantations and some characteristics of natural forests. Please see the Operational Guidance on Applying the Definitions Related to Deforestation, Conversion, and Protection of Ecosystems for more information on such cases.
  • Zero net deforestation

    No net loss in forest area between two points in time, taking into account both losses from deforestation and gains from forest regeneration and restoration. Zero net deforestation would typically be assessed with reference to a given geographic area (e.g., a district, state, nation, or globe) and a given timeframe.

    • The AFi advocates against the use of zero net deforestation as a target related to the forest and land-use footprint or outcomes of company operations, supply chains, or investments.
    • This definition is provided here for context and completeness because it sometimes appears in the lexicon. Zero net deforestation may be a relevant target at the landscape, jurisdictional, or national scale, considering all sectors and all land uses together. To the extent that such a target is set in these contexts, the AFi advocates that the target also be disaggregated to establish separate sub-targets for and tracking of natural forests and tree plantations, so that the intended types of forest conservation, loss, and/or gain are clearly specified.
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