Thursday, October 28, 2021

Congo Rainforest Under Threat


The Congo rainforest is the world’s largest after the Brazilian Amazon. It is a peerless natural resource teeming with biodiversity and home to 40 million people. It’s now the world’s largest forest carbon sink after scientists’ recent grim discovery that the Amazon had “flipped” to emitting more carbon than it absorbs due to rampant deforestation.

The Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) aims to protect the Congo Basin rainforest, which absorbs 4 per cent of the planet’s annual carbon emissions, through international support and investment. It is a $1bn plan backed by the UK and EU to protect the world’s second-largest rainforest.

 Yet it could allow for more industrial logging that it is feared will wipe out the forest within decades. The plan avoids taking up a position over the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) decision to lift a 20-year-old ban on new logging permits. It will not be challenged by CAFI – set up by the UK, France, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and South Korea in 2015 – in the group’s haste to make the $1bn announcement at Cop26 in Glasgow.

Environmentalists have warned that allowing more logging in the vast Congo Basin carbon sink is catastrophically incompatible with tackling the climate crisis. Numerous studies have underlined the importance of intact tropical forests to slowing climate change. Old-growth trees in particular are incredibly efficient at pulling carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in a process called carbon sequestration.

 40 organisations, including Greenpeace Africa and Congolese indigenous groups, have urged CAFI to make new funding conditional on a binding commitment to extend the moratorium. They say industrial logging could threaten an area of tropical forest the size of France and thousands of endangered species such as mountain gorillas, elephants and the Okapi, a species endemic to the region. It would also place the human rights of communities at risk, an open letter noted, while potentially increasing the risk of outbreaks of zoonotic diseases such as Ebola and possibly Covid-19.

Rampant deforestation is accelerating across Central Africa due to interwoven threats of industrial agriculture, urban expansion, oil and gas projects, and climate-driven droughts. Global Forest Watch reports that the rate of tree cutting has more than doubled in the past decade, and a recent study found the Congo Basin forest could be cleared by 2100.

“Forest protection and industrial logging are like oil and water. They just don’t go together,” Serge Ngwato, Greenpeace Africa forest campaigner, told The Independent“The moratorium must be extended and industrial logging scaled down, rather than expanded. Funds must benefit indigenous and local communities rather than the circular economy of multinational colonialist loggers.”

Joe Eisen, executive director of the non-profit Rainforest Foundation UK explained that the deal risks being a “bodged agreement that is rushed through ... by those wanting to make an announcement at Cop26 rather than the Congolese forests and the millions who depend on them”. He added: “While potentially opening up tens of millions of hectares to a logging industry that is mired in corruption and poor social and environmental practice, the draft foresees barely any increase in community management of forests, which is proven to store more carbon, harbour more biodiversity and benefit more people.”

More than half of the Congo Basin’s forest cover, an estimated 110-150 million hectares, is located in the DRC. By some estimates, it’s the wealthiest country in the world in terms of natural resources, including raw minerals worth trillions of dollars. And yet its people remain among the world’s very poorest.

In 2002, the DRC introduced a national moratorium on new logging concessions. The moratorium has been continually violated and recently. Despite its failings, environmental groups and NGOs say the moratorium plays an important role in protecting forests along with local communities and Indigenous peoples. In July, the Congolese deputy prime minister and minister of environment, Ève Bazaiba, announced she would lift the ban on new logging concessions, saying it would help the DRC better govern its environment. 

NGOs sounded the alarm over nine forest concessions that were granted for in excess of 2 million hectares to two Chinese companies. Bazaiba said the government had “no lessons to learn about our resources from an NGO”.

$1bn plan to save critical Congo Basin forest could allow more logging, leaked documents reveal | The Independent

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