Since 2002, a moratorium on new industrial logging concessions has helped protect the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Now the government of DRC wants to open up its forests to more logging. As much as 35% of the country’s forest could be threatened with destruction.
The 2002 moratorium was supposed to be a temporary measure. But in the past 15 years, the DRC government has failed to meet the conditions required before the moratorium can be lifted. As Greenpeace Africa points out, the government has failed:
- to embark on participatory zoning on potential concession areas;
- to establish a three-year rolling plan indicating the exact number, areas and locations where concessions would be gradually awarded; and
- to build institutional capacity to regulate, monitor and control commercial forestry.
As a result, the moratorium has remained in place, helping to preserve DRC’s forests.
The new threat to the moratorium comes a perhaps surprising source: the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) – which is supposed to protect the forests of the Congo Basin. Apart from US$3 million from France, the funding for CAFI comes from Norway. The proposal to lift the moratorium came from France.
Why is Norway supporting logging instead of communities?
Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, Vidar Helgesen, is in favour of logging DRC’s forests. He talks about “gentle” logging, and “careful” logging, and logging that “benefits the local population and the nation as a whole”.
It’s difficult to know what Helgesen is talking about. The history of logging in Africa is one of destruction. As a 2007 report for the World Bank about DRC’s forests states,
Industrial timber production has a poor track record in Africa. Over the past sixty years, there is little evidence that it has lifted rural populations out of poverty or contributed in other meaningful and sustainable ways to local and national development.
Illegal logging concessions
Helgesen has his own experience of the problems in the forestry sector in DRC. In August 2016, Helgesen visited Kinshasa. He met Robert Bopolo Mbongeza, who was at the time DRC’s minister of environment. Only three weeks after meeting Helgesen, Bopolo issued illegal logging concessions covering an area of 4,000 square kilometres.
Obviously, this was embarrassing for Helgesen. And for CAFI. After Greenpeace exposed the story of the illegal concessions in February 2017, CAFI’s funders requested the immediate cancellation of these concessions. Three months later, no cancellation orders have been published. No investigation has been started. Greenpeace Africa reports that “the DRC government still hides in vagueness”.
Greenpeace has produced a short video about the threat of logging in DRC. Contrast Helgesen’s optimism about logging with the views of villagers in DRC who have lived with industrial logging operations:
More than 600 million tons of CO2 emissions
The proposed expansion of logging operations would increase the area of concessions in DRC from about 10 million hectares to about 30 million hectares. In a 2007 report, Greenpeace calculated how much carbon dioxide was released to the atmosphere from an industrial logging concession in DRC. Greenpeace came up with a figure of 30.5 tons of CO2 per hectare logged.
Using Greenpeace’s figures, Rainforest Foundation UK has calculated that the proposed additional 20 million hectares of logging concession would result in more than 600 million tons of CO2 emissions.
But the destruction (and the greenhouse gas emissions) don’t stop when the forest is logged. Greenpeace points out that,
Logging roads open up the rainforest allowing access. With access comes commercial poaching: the rainforests are being emptied of large mammals to feed the trade in commercial bushmeat and ivory. And once the rainforest is opened up by logging roads, the area becomes vulnerable to clearance for agriculture.
Why on earth is Norway, a government that is supposedly so keen on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, also so keen on destroying forests?