The planet has been losing its tropical forests at an alarming rate, but now and then there is a glimmer of good news. One such glad tiding is a new agreement — signed at COP26 by Félix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on behalf of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI)— that seeks to limit deforestation over the coming decade in the African nation, which is home to the world’s second largest rainforest, after the Amazon.
“With its forests, water and mineral resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a genuine ‘Solution Country’ to the climate crisis,” Félix Tshisekedi commented while discussing the ambitious 10-year plan. “To protect our forest and promote its sustainable management, our priority, backed by this new partnership, is to strengthen governance and transparency across all land use sectors. The Partnership will also support our ambition to respond to the dual challenge of food security and climate change through sustainable agriculture, primarily in the savannahs.”
Tshisekedi’s administration has already implemented progressive community-based forest management practices in the Congo Basin, intended to help preserve local rainforests with their stunning biodiversity. Through the new partnership, however, the DRC is hoping to step up those measures by keeping the loss of its forest cover at its 2014-2018 average while ensuring that deforestation continues to decline.
In addition, the newly signed deal will promote the regeneration of 8 million hectares of degraded land and forest while nearly a third national areas will be aside as protected areas, including those already managed along sustainability principles by local communities.
“Protecting rainforests is paramount to solving the climate and biodiversity crises, and keeping these forests intact is necessary for sustainable development in Africa,” commented Toerris Jaeger, secretary general of Rainforest Foundation in Norway. “Land-use planning and forest reforms are key instruments to forest protection. Land rights of local communities and the sustainable use of the forest should form the basis for better land use policies,” he added.
The new partnership, which seeks to enlist key Congolese industries in the effort of forest preservation, raises hope that the world’s second largest rainforest — whose role is even more important in climate mitigation now that forests in the Amazon no longer function as an effective carbon sink — can be saved from further deforestation. As a result, it has been hailed as a sustainability milestone.
At the same time, protecting the DRC’s rainforests with their stunning biodiversity can serve as an example of responsible stewardship of natural resources in a nation where those resources were once exploited and despoiled at alarming rates. “This is an enormous opportunity to transform the country,” stressed Fifi Likunde Mboyo, head of the ministry of environment’s community forestry division, which manages the scheme. “It is a break away from the past.”
For environmentalists and policymakers, meanwhile, the new rainforest preservation agreement in the Congo Basin has been particularly good news because the COP26 summit hasn’t been an unmitigated success despite energetic attempts at PR spin by the government of the UK, the host nation.
In fact, ahead of the summit Félix Tshisekedi, who in addition to his role as DRC President is serving the current chair of the African Union and has launched Africa’s green recovery plan, warned that “Africa is tired of waiting” for support on addressing the climate crisis and called on wealthy nations to follow through on a $100 billion climate financing pledge they made at COP 15 in 2009. The global effort to address climate change, President Tshisekedi cautioned at the Glasgow conference as he called for more funding for the continent’s green transition, “can’t be won unless it is won in Africa”.
Other African leaders have sounded similar warnings about the lack of forthcoming funds. “We [the world’s least-developed countries] bear the biggest brunt of the impact of climate change and we would like to see the commitment that was taken by the developed countries be fulfilled,” said Gambian Environment Minister Lamin B Dibba.
So far, however, for all their pledges on climate change mitigation wealthy countries participating in COP26 have appeared reluctant to open their pocketbooks. “For many developing nations, climate change is a big danger to their very existence,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the COP26 gathering as he called on rich nations to make climate mitigation funds available to poorer countries. “Time demands that we need to take big steps,” Modi stressed. French President Emmanuel Macron echoed that sentiment, chiding rich nations for “not contributing what they should today to meet their responsibilities.”
Hopefully, the partnership to protect the lush and biodiverse rainforests in the Congo Basin is only the beginning of a new wave of funding to protect biodiversity and limit the effects of the climate crisis.