Managing Congo Basin Forests - a Regional Approach for a Regional Resource
Washington — The Congo Basin forest ecosystem is the world's second largest moist tropical forest, second only to the Amazon, and represents about one quarter of the globe's remaining closed canopy forest. It covers an area almost four times the size of France and spans six Central African countries: Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.
The forests of the Congo Basin store a significant carbon stock (estimates range between 24 and39 GT of carbon) and thus serve as an important buffer against global climate change.
Although deforestation rates (0.17 percent) in the Congo Basin are still low compared to large forest blocks in the Amazon or South-East Asia, these rates are expected to amplify drastically in the coming decades driven by a variety of forces such as industrial logging activities, road development, agricultural expansion (both for subsistence purposes and for commercial agriculture), as well as oil and mineral extraction.
Curbing these accelerating deforestation rates means that less carbon will be released into the atmosphere, that habitat for endangered species is conserved, and that other important ecological forest functions (e.g. driving the cycle of rain, providing flood control) are maintained.
At the global scale, tropical deforestation is estimated to contribute between 15 and 20 percent of global greenhouse emissions, adding to global warming and furthering the impacts of climate change. The international community is therefore planning for a financial incentive mechanism to help conserve tropical forests by compensating countries for their accomplishments in reducing tropical deforestation and forest degradation.
The financial incentive system is known as the REDD+ mechanism (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and will form part of the future climate framework under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. But before they can take advantage of such a mechanism, Congo Basin countries must overcome significant institutional and technical capacity challenges.
A regional approach to conservation and sustainable use of forest resources
To support the Congo basin countries, the World Bank in August 2011 approved a five-year project financed with a $13 million grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to strengthen countries' capacities to meet the institutional and technical prerequisites necessary to benefit from a future REDD+ incentive mechanism.
"This is clearly one of our most important and critical projects as we engage in supporting Africa on the climate change agenda and on helping Africans position themselves both to contribute to the global mitigation effort and to benefit from the expected enhanced flows of related financial resources," said Yusupha B. Crookes, World Bank Director for Regional Integration in Africa.
Congo Basin countries are taking a regional approach to preparing themselves for participation.
"Regional integration gives countries a greater ability to influence international climate negotiations and helps them combine resources to adopt cutting-edge methodologies and technologies for forest and carbon monitoring," said Carole Megevand, World Bank Task Team Leader for the project. "It also gives countries the ability to share the cost of capacity building, as well as analytical and field work, and prevents the problem of deforestation from simply moving from one country to another."
The project is implemented by the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC), a regional institution mandated with coordinating forest management. "COMIFAC is responsible for project implementation, but participating countries have a dominant role in decision-making," Megevand said.
The subsidiarity principle is a key feature of the project design. This means the regional approach will complement a number of globally-financed, country-level initiatives on forest management. It will provide a regional umbrella to help coordinate policy reform across the six countries towards the shared goal of reducing deforestation and forest degradation.
Measuring the carbon content of Congo Basin forests
International negotiations on REDD+ continue around the notion of "carbon credits", a system to compensate countries for their performance in reducing the release of forest carbon into the atmosphere.
Compared to other globally significant forest ecosystems, the Congo Basin countries have a glaring gap of information on the carbon content of their forests. This massive uncertainty could eventually prevent carbon finance payments to individual countries.
"The key outcome of this project will be the availability of tools to accurately and reliably measure the carbon content of tropical forests in Central Africa," said Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Sector Manager of Environment. "As knowledge of the carbon content will most likely be a prerequisite to accessing future performance-based REDD+ payments, the participating countries will be ahead of that curve."
About the Congo Basin forest ecosystem
More than 24 million people live in the Congo Basin forest area. Timber and minerals found in the forests contribute significantly to export and fiscal revenues. But aside from its economic significance, the rainforests also play a critical role for global biodiversity conservation with plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The forests are also the green lung of the African continent and provide vital regional and global ecological services: providing water services, regulating climate, and driving a cycle of rain. The forests metabolize carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store a huge amount of carbon in the abundant vegetation.