HCV screening can support governments and companies to begin finding out from afar what values may exist and how to set priorities to protect them.

The HCV approach is gaining momentum. It helps businesses and communities discover hotspots of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and habitats that provide basic needs and make up the cultural identity of people living there. The approach has become critical in responsible production and resource use. So far, field specialists have combed through thousands of hectares to help define where those critical areas are.

But what do you do when you manage millions of hectares and want to find your priorities and what needs shielding from potentially harmful business activity? Last year, HCVRN launched the HCV Screening Guide, which provides a way to conduct a high-level remote exercise for spotting potential high-value conservation areas.

“We knew that people have been informally adapting the HCV approach for landscape scale for years,” says Ellen Watson, technical manager at HCVRN. “The idea was to scale up the concept in a consistent way to apply it globally. We talked to practitioners and experts, and used the HCV Common guidance for plantations and farms to design a robust way for scaling up the approach.”

While assessments focus mostly on smaller areas of land (what specialists call “management units”), remote screening can help address complex issues such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, or threats to livelihoods and cultural values at larger scales. More and more NGOs and companies seek to tackle some of their challenges through landscape or jurisdictional approaches – aka, applying the HCV approach to a particular landscape or administrative level. Screening applies to various administrative levels, such as district, province or country level, as well as across regions, ecosystems and commodities.

HCV screening entails a six-step process that focuses overall on:

  • Identifying the environmental and social characteristics of a landscape, region, etc.;
  • Assessing the probability of having HCVs in that territory and what threatens them;
  • Highlighting which values need to be prioritised within policies and action on the ground.

Putting together social and environmental information helps authorities and companies identify what is important for conservation and livelihoods, as well as support on-the-ground interventions. HCV screening could be an initial filter to identify values and areas that need local level attention and support to reduce and mitigate risks to habitats and people.  HCV screening results can also support fieldwork such as Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), Strategic Environmental Assessments, and HCV-HCSA assessments.

“In some cases, the screening could be used let’s say in a landscape where a company has plantations spread over a huge area,” Watson says. “Then, they can see the big picture of the values in that landscape and from there, drill down for a more specific HCV assessment; so it can facilitate HCV assessments but it can also help stakeholders set their priorities.”

Screening for concentrations of biodiversity, large landscapes, rare or endangered ecosystems and habitats, and basic ecosystem services – i.e. the first four HCV values - is rather straightforward even remotely. The richness of species and ecosystem data and maps etc allows experts to spot which values may be present in a landscape and what needs protection.

But pinpointing the social values of a place – HCV 5 and 6 which define the landscapes and ecosystems securing local livelihoods and intrinsic to local cultures - especially at a larger scale, is more challenging. “The difficulties are in who you can talk to,” Watson explains. “If you just want environmental data, you can get it. Finding public information on social values in far more difficult, and in the field is often done by engaging communities.” In this case, qualitative research is key. Researchers need to go beyond web-based searches and talk to social experts and authorities who know the social and cultural context of that area.

Engaging authorities and decision-makers all throughout the process is also key, as well as consulting with social and environmental NGOs and indigenous organisations. Screening results can inform further fieldwork in areas where environmental and social values are at risk – from conversion of natural vegetation, population displacements, tenure rights or access issues, conflicts between conservation, development, and communities, and more.

Screening at work

Currently, HCVRN is coordinating two HCV Screening exercises in Indonesia and Brazil.

In late 2015, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, a tailings dam collapsed at a mine, leading to mud, debris and contaminated water flowing down 650km on the local river, Rio Doce, all the way to Atlantic Ocean. Local communities, already affected by unsustainable mining, deforestation and poorly managed agriculture, were deeply impacted. With about 3 million people depending on the river for water, food and their livelihoods, restoring the landscape is essential. But that involves understanding how much has been affected and which valuable areas take priority. For that, Lactec, a technical institution assessing the environmental damages, asked HCVRN to conduct an HCV screening in the area. “Experts are analysing a trove of data from impact studies so they can identify which areas are still valuable after the disaster and recommend how to maintain or restore those regions,” says Watson. This will ultimately help the Brazilian authorities to choose the most cost-effective ways to enhance biodiversity in the river basin and benefit local livelihoods.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has been working with the local government in West Kalimantan’s Kapuas Hulu District to help them implement sustainable supply chain activities. While the district is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, studies have shown that just over a third of its forests are under protection. “There is a general interest in identifying regions outside of protected areas that could still be harbouring HCVs and to have that on the government’s radar”, Watson says. For that GIZ is working with HCVRN to conduct a screening of the landscape and understand which areas need priority for conservation. In addition to the six HCVs, the screening exercise also includes indicative mapping of High Carbon Stock forests. “The government and other stakeholders want it to be a sustainable jurisdiction. This means if the screening helps discover valuable areas that are currently used for non-sustainable purposes, authorities can take a decision about how to address that.”

The screening is not replacing fieldwork, Watson points out; and in the case of Indonesia, previous work on the ground helps with identifying the social and cultural values. “We don’t want to come up with just another top-down approach. We try to directly connect with social NGOs and ask them how they want to engage.”

Note: Development of the guidance was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and HCV Network Ltd