News story | Date: 13/07/2017 | Ministry of Climate and Environment
In recent weeks, Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK) has been running a campaign aimed at Norway and the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), who work jointly to support the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)`s efforts to preserve its vast rainforests.
Allegations have no basis in reality
Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) welcomes and encourages debate and public scrutiny into our efforts to fight tropical forest loss. Most often, public input is both enriching and improves our work. In its ongoing campaign, however, RFUK argues that "Norway's plan to protect Congo's rainforest" is to "hand it over to the logging companies". These allegations have no basis in reality.
Preserving the world's tropical forests is essential if we are to meet the global climate goals and the sustainable development goals. The Congo Basin holds the world's largest rainforests outside of the Amazon, and is hence critical to this effort. Additionally, the Congo Basin is important for Africa's water supply and agricultural production, and is hence a socioeconomic safety net for millions of poor and vulnerable people.
To support the Central African countries efforts to preserve these forests, Norway teamed up with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the European Union, South Korea and Brazil to form CAFI in 2015. In 2016, CAFI entered into a climate and forest partnership with the Democratic Republic of Congo, manifested through a joint Letter of Intent (LoI).
A challenging task
Undoubtedly, DRC's challenges are momentous. It has a weak governing capacity across its enormous territory, and is still suffering from years of war and continued instabilities. Its population of 80 million people are among the world`s poorest, and its population growth is the fastest in the world after India and Nigeria. Both CAFI and the government of DRC are keenly aware of the major structural weaknesses that characterise both DRC`s institutions as well as its formal and informal economy, and the risk this poses to the management of its forests and peatlands. Our joint Letter of Intent is a first attempt to start dealing with those challenges in a systematic way, ranging from reforms of land use planning, agriculture, energy, mining, forestry and land tenure rights - to family planning and governance.
Reform of DRC's commercial logging sector is one component of this program (though receiving less than 2% of the overall CAFI funding to DRC). RFUK is well aware that their allegations towards Norway and CAFI all relate to a project proposal that has been rejected by the technical committee of DRC's national REDD+ fund, in large measure due to concerns raised by Norway.
Hence, RFUK is acting contrary to their better judgement. A revised proposal is yet to be reviewed by CAFI and Norway. If – and when – this new proposal is approved the elements of concern to RFUK and Norway alike will be fundamentally altered.
Contrary to what RFUK implies neither CAFI nor the Government of Norway run DRC's forest policy. By claiming that "Norway's plan to 'protect' the Rainforest" is to "hand it over to logging companies" RFUK either fundamentally misunderstand or deliberately misstates who makes decisions about DRC's rainforests.
CAFI`s impact on revoking of concessions
The real question, of course, is not whether CAFI has solved everything, but whether CAFI's engagement has had – and is likely to have – a positive impact. The ultimate judgment will only be evident a long time from now, but at present two indicators stand out:
- First, as part of the Letter of Intent with CAFI, DRC has committed to completing the process of cancelling any and all logging concessions not in compliance with existing regulations by no later than January 1, 2019. Given the governance challenges of DRC, this is an ambitious and important commitment. While RFUK and others would surely argue that should happen immediately, the political reality is different and it seems clear that this commitment would not have happened without CAFI's and Norway's engagement.
- After Greenpeace identified two illegally granted forest concessions in DRC this winter, CAFI acted swiftly, denying any disbursements of funding before the revoking of these concessions. To its credit, the DRC government immediately denounced the concessions and they were formally revoked last week. The DRC government additionally discovered three illegal concessions through internal procedures, and these were also revoked. This would unlikely have happened without CAFI's and Norway's engagement.
A comprehensive effort is needed
It would be ideal if the banning of commercial logging was sufficient to save DRC's forests. However, according to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), an estimated 90% of all logging occurs illegally in the informal sector outside of the logging concessions. Most is absorbed by a growing domestic market. Our approach must entail a response to the following: How can DRC, a poor nation abundant with natural resources, meet its growing demand for timber, food and charcoal in a sustainable manner, short of importing expensive wood from Europe? A solution must be comprehensive and include efforts against illegal logging while simultaneously promoting sustainable forestry. The project will therefore include piloting of interesting community forestry approaches favoured by NGOs. It will also include – under very strict conditions laid out in the LoI – approaches to keep the deforestation impacts of DRC's commercial logging sector low.
The current moratorium on logging concessions can only be lifted if – and when – relevant conditions in the Congolese law and the LoI are met. This will include progress on sustainable land use planning (supported through another CAFI project), and taking into account various development and climate objectives through a consultative process. The sequencing and quality of these activities is extremely important, and CAFI will accept no shortcuts. If DRC meets the requirements for lifting the logging moratorium, the government has committed to follow concrete procedures including strict respect of transparency and consultations through the signing of the LoI and its Forest Code.
Ample scope to contribute
RFUK fails to appreciate that the Government in DRC and its partners do not operate in a vacuum. Forest policy in the DRC has a long and brokered history, which has left numerous challenges to deal with. DRC and its partners will attempt solving them in a collaborative, respectful manner.
In this context, CAFI's Letter of Intent with DRC represents a historical breakthrough for the country`s forest management. Together, we will move relentlessly in the direction set out by our Letter of Intent. The sum of measures must gradually bring deforestation and forest degradation under control.
The issue of how to deal with commercial logging is one out of numerous important and contentions ones. There is ample scope for RFUK and others to contribute with ideas and solutions.