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Congo Chainsaw Massacre: Largest East African Forest Basin under threat

The Congo Basin region, the world second largest after the Amazon, is in serious danger.

The largest forest cover in East and Central Africa currently faces high rate of deforestation compared to previous years.

That is according to a new regional valuation by the Forest Declaration Assessment

It is home to the second largest tropical forest in the world and a major biodiversity hotspot, experienced.

A year ago, 145 governments signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, committing to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.

They include all six Congo Basin Forest countries, namely Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo.

With only eight years remaining, countries will need to reduce forest loss by 10 percent every year from 2021 compared to 2018-2020.

Alarmingly, the report published today found that the region overall is not on track to meet this goal, and that deforestation has gone up by five percent.

Only two of the six Congo Basin countries, the Republic of the Congo and Gabon, are on track to meet the 2030 goals, having so far achieved reductions of 30 percent and 28 percent respectively.

“The Congo Basin Forest is at a crossroads. Deforestation has been low compared to other tropical regions, but we are seeing an upward trend of fragmentation and forest loss since 2020. If this trend continues, we risk losing the largest remaining intact forest in the tropics along with its immense and irreplaceable value for biodiversity, climate, and people.”

Dr Marion Ferrat – Senior consultant at Climate Focus

One out of every five species on the planet is found in the forests of the Congo Basin.

The region’s forests also contain the world’s largest remaining carbon sink in the tropics, capable of removing 0.61 net gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year.

That is nearly six times the net removals of the Amazon Basin Forest in only 60 percent of the area.

The forests of the Congo Basin are a socio-cultural, economic, and ecological wellspring, providing livelihoods for 60 million people who live in or near forest areas.

Indirectly it feeds 40 million people who live in nearby urban centres.

Almost two thirds of the population of these six countries live in poverty.

There is an urgent need for sustainable economic development that carefully considers risks for forests and values their essential contributions for current and future generations.

“If world leaders are serious about their commitments to stop forest loss, they must step up financial support for the Congo Basin,” said Lawrence Nsoyuni, CEO of Geospatial Technology Group.

“Financial pledges made in Glasgow are commendable but will still only meet a fraction of the investments needed to protect these invaluable forests in a way that also supports sustainable development for the people.

 We are looking at a magnitude of USD 100 billion every year just for the Congo Basin as the home of the second largest forest in the world.”

The regional assessment takes stock of efforts to protect forests in the Congo Basin and is the first-ever regional focus of the global Forest Declaration Assessment, a comprehensive, civil society-led effort to assess collective progress toward global forest goals.

The regional assessment was coordinated by Climate Focus, with contributions from nine regional civil society partners.

Smallholder subsistence activities are the biggest deforestation factor today, but industrial activities pose the greatest threat by opening up intact forests.

The integrity of forests has declined in all six Congo Basin countries, with the greatest reductions seen in Cameroon, the DRC, and Equatorial Guinea.

Lack of tenure security for forest communities in the Congo Basin and overlapping land use regimes are the main underlying factors of forest disturbance.

Between 2015 and 2020, 11 percent of regional deforestation which is approximately 650,000 hectares, occurred in forests that were first fragmented before undergoing permanent conversion.

Subsistence agriculture by smallholders in rural areas is the main driver of deforestation and degradation in the Congo Basin—accompanied by the construction of roads and settlements, which accelerate land clearing.

Industrial activities, such as mining, logging and commercial agriculture pose the greatest threat to remote, intact forests with important carbon sequestration potentials.

They also open previously inaccessible areas to other small-scale activities.

“Addressing forest loss caused by smallholder clearing requires different policy measures than addressing deforestation driven by industry,” said Marie Tamoifo Nkom, sub-regional coordinator of Youth Network for Central African Forests (REJEFAC).

“Governments, local communities, and civil society in the region need to be supported to ensure that development is achieved while forests are sustainably managed and protected.”

Governments, grassroots movements, and civil society are taking steps to protect forests, but significant investment is needed.

Colonial land governance systems that continued even after Central African nations achieved independence ignored the customary land rights of Indigenous People and local populations.

Despite the fact that the natives have occupied the basin for centuries in harmony with forest ecosystems.

 Several governments made important steps to address the inequities.

The DRC and Republic of the Congo have established reference policies and laws that recognize and protect the rights of Indigenous People and local communities.

Community forest laws are in place in Cameroon, Gabon, the Republic of the Congo, and DRC, giving rights and legal bases for communities to manage their forests.

However, even with land use strategies in place, there is still overlap between economic concessions and critical intact forest landscapes and community forest lands.

These conflicts can result in ecosystem degradation and displacement.

Notably, the Congo Basin countries have been engaged in the REDD+ processes—the UN conservation initiative written to include forest communities in the work and funding—since its inception.

But the process for participating countries requires significant capacity, and so far, minimal funding has reached countries and local communities.

Incentives through REDD+ have been insufficient to address deep-seated conflicts around land use, or to compete with more lucrative demands for land.

“The development needs in the region are profound, but the question is whether large-scale, top-down development projects and extractive activities deliver the benefits to local communities who need them most,” added Marie Tamoifo Nkom. 

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