Forest loss in DRC is exacerbated by extreme poverty, mainly due to a growing population lacking livelihood
President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom on behalf of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) last week endorsed an ambitious 10-year agreement (2021-31) to protect the Congo Basin rainforest – the world’s second largest.
The agreement will unlock on-the-ground multi-donor investments of US$500 million for the first five years.
“With its forests, water and mineral resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a genuine “Solution Country” to the climate crisis. 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”, said President Tshisekedi.
All sectors of the DRC’s economy have joined in this landmark agreement to undertake actions that could change land use practices that date back millennia. These concerted efforts are essential in a country the size of Western Europe with one of the lowest human development indices in the world, and that loses nearly half a million hectares of forest every year.
Through this new multi-year partnership, the DRC aims to first cap forest cover loss at its 2014-2018 average and ensure that deforestation continues to decline. The partnership will also promote the regeneration of 8 million hectares of degraded land and forests, and place 30% of national areas under a protection status, including areas where local communities undertake efforts to manage forests sustainably.
Lord Goldsmith, UK Minister for Pacific and the Environment declared: “The UK is proud to be signing this ambitious ten-year Letter of Intent with the Central African Forest Initiative alongside the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is a crucial step forward in our efforts to protect and restore the country’s precious forests, as well as providing sustainable livelihoods and alleviating poverty.”
Exacerbated by extreme poverty, forest loss in the DRC is mainly due to a growing population lacking livelihood opportunities outside the forest and relying mostly on fuelwood for cooking, all that in the absence of land use planning. Any solution proposed to stem forest loss in the DRC must therefore focus on rural development, poverty reduction, and better food security.
CAFI’s support of $500 million over the first five years more than doubles the $190 million provided under the first Letter of Intent (2015-2020), whose objectives were delivered through a portfolio of close to twenty programmes that supported large-scale reforms in agriculture, land-use planning and land tenure; directed agricultural activities towards tens of thousands of hectares of savannahs; and improved the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.
The announcement at COP26 concludes months of discussions between CAFI donors and DRC Ministers, in which national civil society was fully involved. In a communiqué, Guy Kajemba, National coordinator of the umbrella civil society organisation “Groupe de Travail Climat REDD+ Rénové” declared:
“We welcome this renewed partnership. It will help us closely monitor commitments taken, including the steps that will lead to a responsible and progressive lifting of the moratorium, the publication of contracts in all sectors linked to the use of land and the commitment taken by President Tshisekedi to cancel all dubious contracts of forest concessions. We are particularly encouraged by the mobilisation of all sectors committed to protect our High Value Forests and peatlands.”
12 CONCRETE OBJECTIVES OF THE DRC-CAFI LETTER OF INTENT 2021-2031
- High value forests, peatlands and community forest concessions are systematically incorporated into land-use plans, with the aim of maintaining the important role they play.
- The proportion of unsustainable wood energy (e.g. charcoal) for cooking is halved in the main urban centers (note: 97% of Kinshasa 13 million inhabitants use fuelwood daily for cooking and consume over 17 million tons of wood per year, mainly sourced in an unsustainable manner).
- No agro-industrial concessions will be allocated in high value forests and peatlands.
- Transparency in natural resources governance is enhanced through the legal review of existing agriculture, logging, mine and oil concessions, the cancellation of illegal ones, as well as the publication of all contracts (linked to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – EITI).
- Transparent allocation procedures are followed for agriculture and logging concessions.
- Forest governance is improved through stronger control and an ambitious 5 million hectares target of community forestry, doubling the original national target, along with a legal and regulatory framework adopted to protect the rights of indigenous peoples. The signature of the Decree lifting the moratorium will be adopted only after the realization, on the basis of a consultative process, of the geographical programming of future allocations.
- In line with the global 30 x 30 commitment, the DRC commits 30% of the country to be under various forms of protection status by 2030 while respecting the right to free prior and informed consent and ensuring the voice of marginalized communities are heard. This includes areas that communities themselves dedicate to protection through a local-level zoning process they lead.
- Eight million hectares of degraded lands and forests will be restored, as per the pledge of the DRC under the Bonn Global Challenge on restoration of degraded and deforested landscapes.
- The new and innovative tenure law and policy are adopted and implemented, with the deployment of a decentralised tenure information system that include community-level tenure registries.
- New social and environmental standards are implemented to reduce the impact of mining and oil investments on forests and biodiversity, with reinforced measures in high value forests and peatlands. Any activity incompatible with conservation objectives in Protected Areas is banned.
- A national population policy that is rights-based, evidence-informed and gender-responsive is implemented to promote a demographic transition that stimulates economic growth and reaches development objectives.
- A model of forest-friendly special economic zone is piloted to support a low-deforestation green economy, and takes into account high value forests, peatlands and land planning processes.
- The DRC’s forest represents 10% of the world’s tropical forests. Its peatlands cover 100,000 km2 and are the largest in the world. Its ecosystem offers a carbon absorption service equivalent to 10 years of global emissions. The many commitments reflected in the new Letter of Intent demonstrate DRC’s high level of resolve to establish a low-deforestation green economy.
- Supported by European countries, the Republic of Korea, the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) is a United Nations Trust Fund and policy dialogue platform that aims to support six Central African countries in pursuing a low-emission development pathway that ensures economic growth and poverty reduction while protecting the forests and natural resources, on which people depend.
- CAFI thus combines investments and high-level policy dialogue to help its six partner countries implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, fight poverty and develop sustainably while being aligned with the post-2020 biodiversity framework.
- The Central Africa’s tropical rainforest is under pressure. While trends and causes vary widely across national contexts, forest loss represents more than 6 million hectares of primary tropical forest since 2001, equivalent to about 6 million rugby fields.
- Home to more than 10,000 plant and animal species, many of them endemic, the Central African rainforest is an indispensable source of food, energy, shelter and spirituality in countries with some of the lowest human development indexes and the largest number of people in urgent need of food security assistance in the world.
- The Congo Basin is one of the last regions in the world to absorb more carbon than it emits. Its forest, the second largest in the world, absorbs nearly 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year or 4% of global emissions.