The sixth annual One Planet Summit began on Wednesday, with the fate of forests at the top of the agenda. Politicians, scientists and NGOs met in Libreville, Gabon, to discuss the future of rainforests in the Congo basin, Southeast Asia and the Amazon basin. This year’s conference has been named the "One Forest Summit" to reflect this focus.
“The decision to hold this summit in the Congo basin is significant because Central Africa’s tropical forest is one of the main carbon sinks on the planet,” says Alain Karsenty, forest economist and researcher at the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development and a Central Africa specialist.
The tropical rainforest, which spans Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon, currently stores stocks of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent to 10 years’ worth of global emissions.
“Forests in Southeast Asia now emit more CO2 than they absorb due to deforestation,” Karsenty says. “In the Amazon, studies show that we are reaching a tipping point. The only place where forests are definitely still absorbing more CO2 than they emit is in Central Africa.”
In the Amazon, thousands of trees have been razed to make space for soy farms and pasture for livestock, and in Indonesia palm oil production has led to millions of hectares of deforestation.
But Central Africa’s rainforests have been largely – if not entirely – spared.
“Deforestation began in 2010, spurred by the pressure of a growing population. It was linked to slash-and-burn agriculture, which many farmers depend on, and the use of charcoal,” Karsenty says.
Levels of such “poverty deforestation” vary from country to country in the Congo basin. DRC was home to 40% of global deforestation in 2021, second only to Brazil.
But Gabon, which has a significantly smaller population than its neighbour, is a low deforestation country. “And Gabon has gradually emerged as the model student in the region,” Karsenty says. The country is called “Africa’s Last Eden” due to more than 85% of its territory being covered by rainforest.
Strict laws against using the forest for industry were also implemented, meaning manufacturers could only cut down a maximum of two trees per hectare, every 25 years. To deter illegal felling, logs were marked with barcodes so that they could be tracked, “which created jobs, helped the economy to flourish and limited deforestation”, Karsenty says.
As a final measure, Gabon inaugurated 13 national parks covering 11% of its land mass and installed a satellite-based surveillance system to monitor deforestation.