WEALTHY nations must provide more cash to help the impoverished Democratic Republic of Congo preserve the worldâ€™s second biggest tropical forest, its Environment Minister said.
Logging and land clearance for farming are eating away the Congo Basin, home to more than a quarter of the worldâ€™s tropical forests, at the rate of more than 800 000 hectares a year.
Environment Minister JosÃ© Endundu told Reuters he wanted to reduce to 15 million hectares, from 20 million, the land attributed to logging companies, but that rich countries must help offset lost revenues and spur development there.
“We cannot be the ones who preserve, while others pollute without paying,” he said in an interview. “Poverty and misery are the enemies of the forest. There needs to be a way that the local people are able to benefit from that forest.”
Last week, donors led by Britain and Norway launched the US$200 million Congo Basin Forest Fund to help monitor forest depletion and promote economically viable alternatives.
Such projects, while encouraging, fall well short of fairly compensating his country, where the vast majority of the basin is located, Endundu said.
“Of course itâ€™s not enough,” he said. “Congo is the country that has done the best job preserving its forest, and that cannot remain without some kind of value. We are talking today in terms of billions of dollars.”
Next month, Congo is due to start evaluating 156 logging titles as part of a long delayed World Bank-sponsored review. Most of the deals were agreed during the turmoil of a 1998-2003 war and the corrupt transitional government that followed.
Many are expected to be cancelled outright for breaking a 2002 five-year moratorium on new logging contracts put in place to try to stem rampant deforestation aggravated by the conflict.
Congo is looking not only to foreign governments for assistance, but also to an emerging market in carbon trading, Endundu said, referring to a system of buying and selling carbon credits in the European Union.
Endundu believes successfully marketing Congoâ€™s estimated 17 billion tonnes of carbon reserves would not only help preserve the Congo Basin, but could also become a major source of revenue for the nation.
“The negotiable value of that carbon is about US$5 per tonne,” he said.
“So, if we are able to come to an arrangement to commercialise this carbon, there will be a fundamental change in the financial means at our disposal.”
Experts say post-war Congo is still a long way from establishing the monitoring structures and regulatory framework needed to support such a system.
However, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali in December for the first time recognised tropical forest protection as a major priority in the fight against global warming and urged governments to act quickly to preserve them.
Endundu believes the world is now finally waking up to its obligation to help Congo save its forests.
“I donâ€™t think they will refuse,” he said. “Itâ€™s not charity … Itâ€™s in the understood common interest of all of humanity.” â€” Reuters.