The battle against deforestation in Africa has taken a step nearer to victory with a new pact aiming at greater protection for the world’s second biggest rain forest.
The Congo Basin forest area covers more than 200 million hectares in central Africa and is vital to world ecology and a stable climate. But Africa’s forests have been shrinking steadily over the years.
Central African countries and donor partner countries have now signed a Joint Declaration on REDD+, the programme aimed at Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation.
The Declaration was signed at the climate change conference, or COP 17, in Durban.
It represents a renewed commitment from Central African countries and donors to scale up REDD+ implementation
High-level representatives of African and donor countries recognized the vital role that the Congo Basin plays in combating climate change.
The region is home to more than 120 million people, and some 50 million of them are dependent upon forests for their livelihoods and cultures. The majority of them live in poverty.
An existing measure to protect the forests there is the Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF), which is hosted by the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Clotilde Ngomba. CBFF Coordinator at the AfDB, gave an overview of the Fund: “It was launched in 2008 with financing from Norway and the UK to reduce deforestation, degradation and poverty in the Basin region.”
“We take a bottom up and top down approach”, she said. “Livelihoods at the bottom must be improved while maintaining the forest. The CBFF support governments to help them test their policy assumptions and options taking into account the objectives of Fund.”
Henri Djombo, Minister of Sustainable Development, Forest Economics, and Environment, Republic of the Congo, said: “The countries in and around the Congo Basin have a special responsibility to establish a solid institutional foundation upon which REDD+ programmes can be built.
“We look forward to working closely with our development partners to rapidly move forward with our efforts to take full advantage of all possible incentives to reduce deforestation and forest degradation as a critical component of our low carbon development strategies.”
He added: “Our best wish is that the partners will strongly support efforts for the sustainable management of the Congo Basin forest with important financial resources early in 2012.”
Gregory Barker, minister of state at the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, welcomed the declaration. “Destruction of the world’s forests contributes more to climate change than emissions from all the planes and cars put together. I am pleased so many countries have come forward to declare our joint intentions to speed up this new international initiative in this critically important region.”
Laurent Some, of the World Wildlife Fund for Africa, said: “I ask you to remember the late Professor Wangari Mathai, a brave African lady who was instrumental in the setting up of the Congo Basin Forest Fund, and who would have been here today.”
Currently, the Fund portfolio includes 41 projects, both government and NGO-led, worth a collective €84 million. The AfDB approved a further eight projects in 2011, with a further 18 in the pipeline for approval.
The challenge now lies in obtaining further finance. “Countries have requested finance for REDD+ projects on the ground, but the Fund needs additional finance to do that”, said Ngomba.
Raymond Lumuemamo, WWF Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo, noted the problems they face. “Bad governance, a lack of accountability and an ambiguous land tenure system and poor technology transfer are obstacles.”
Stub Tove from Norway’s Ministry of the Environment said that, as a donor country, Norway approved of the progress made: “We are pleased the governing council of the Fund approved government projects complementing NGO projects.”
She warned against corruption, and said safeguards must be in place. “Funds must go through multi-lateral channels. This is a pre-requisite for Norway’s engagement.”
Djombo commented: “With help of the late Mathai, Norway and the UK listened to us and gave USD 200million to start the implementation. Since then, we have received nothing more. With scant resources, the Congo basin won’t see results.”
In response, Barker said the UK has committed £50 million (€60 million) to the Fund, while France said it has committed itself to €50m worth of activities.
Other donor partner countries - Australia, Canada, Germany, United States of America, and the European Commission - expressed their support for enabling the Central African Forests Commission to achieve its goals.