in DR Congo, Norway

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has abandoned any pretence of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation

On 1 February 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s forests were dealt a double blow. First, DRC’s Minister of Environment, Amy Ambatobe, reinstated three illegal logging concessions covering an area of 6,500 square kilometres. Second, DRC’s president, Joseph Kabila, signed off on three oil exploration concessions covering a huge area of Mai Ndombe province, including part of the Salonga National Park.

Three illegal logging concessions

The three logging concessions were awarded to two Chinese-owned logging companies: Forestière pour le Développement du Congo (FODECO), and Société La Millénaire Forestière (SOMIFOR).

The logging concessions are in breach of DRC’s 2002 logging moratorium.

First awarded in 2015, the three illegal logging concessions were cancelled in August 2016, by the then Environment Minister, Robert Bopolo.

Two of the concessions overlap with the Cuvette Centrale peatlands, the largest tropical peatland in the world. Last year, scientists estimated the extent of the peatlands. A paper in Nature describes the peatlands as “among the most carbon-dense ecosystems on Earth”.

The peatlands are under threat from logging concessions and oil palm concessions, as well as mining operations and oil exploration. A recent paper in Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change notes that although commercial logging has not yet started, about 29,000 km2 of mapped forested peatlands are under logging concessions.

Simon Counsell, Executive Director of Rainforest Foundation UK, sums up the seriousness of the three illegal logging concessions for the future of REDD in DRC:

“The issuing of new logging concessions sends a clear signal to the international community that the DRC government is abandoning any pretence at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Any new large-scale logging operations on peatland forests in particular are likely to cause massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Donors such as Norway and the World Bank will need to reconsider whether REDD programmes in DRC are credible and supportable.”

Central African Forest Initiative freezes funding to DRC

Last week, Atle Hamar, Norway’s State Secretary at the Ministry of Climate and Environment, told the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) that the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) would not make any further payments to DRC until the concessions are withdrawn.

CAFI is largely financed by Norway. The current chair is France. CAFI is supposed to “recognise and preserve the value of the forests in the region to mitigating climate change, reducing poverty, and contributing to sustainable development”.

Hamar told NRK that the Ministry believes that the concessions are in breach of the terms of the Letter of Intent between DRC and CAFI. NRK reports Hamar as saying that,

“We have prepared a joint position with all CAFI members. CAFI states that this is considered a violation of Congolese law and in breach of the agreement with CAFI. CAFI also states that no new transfers will be made to CAFI projects in DRC before the concessions have been cancelled.”

Oil exploration in Mai Ndombe province

The three oil exploration blocks signed by President Joseph Kabila are also in the Cuvette Centrale. The three blocks cover a total area of 146,000 square kilometres. Part of the Salonga National Park, the largest tropical rainforest reserve in Africa, is covered by the concessions.

Salonga National Park is the habitat of several endemic endangered species, including the dwarf chimpanzee, the forest elephant, the Congo peacock, and the African slender-snouted crocodile. It is a World Heritage Site.

The three oil exploration blocks are actually ten years old. On 21 December 2007, the government signed a production-sharing agreement with Compagnie Minière du Congo (Comico) and the state-owned Société Nationale des Hydrocarbons (Sonahydroc). Comico is owned by Adonis Pouroulis, who also owns the mining company Petra Diamonds.

The map below is from the Taz newspaper in Germany, with the province of Mai Ndombe outlined in blue (block 8 belongs to the South African firm Dig Oil, and block 9 the British firm Soco International – both blocks are still awaiting the president’s signature):

Mai Ndombe, of course, is the province covered by the World Bank’s proposed Mai Ndombe integrated REDD programme in DRC (PIREDD). Obviously, illegal logging concessions and oil exploration – particularly in one of the most carbon-dense ecosystems on the planet – are not compatible with reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

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  1. These are very disturbing developments for the African Continent and indeed the entire world. Is this why Mr. Kabila has refused to let the DRC citizens hold democratic elections? It is obvious that Kabila and his fellow leaders stand to gain from these deals, and at the expense of Congolese lives which have been lost in protests and demonstrations. And this is happening while the AU and UN remain silent as on-lookers. It is a shame that this is happening in this century while other world leaders sit and watch on in silence!

  2. Since 2016, WWF has co-managed the Salonga National Park with ICCN (Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature). On 2 March 2018, WWF put out a press statement that includes this paragraph:

    “The oil blocks discussed in the oil production contract completely overlap with the Salongare National Park and represent a real danger to the exceptional flora and fauna of this ecosystem. The exploration and exploitation activities envisaged in this zone constitute real threats for the production of the environmental services and the way of life of the surrounding populations.”

  3. On 1 March 2018, CAFI put out a statement about the illegal logging concessions, and the fact that they are in breach of the 2002 logging moratorium. CAFI finally seems to be slowly realising how bad things are in DRC, but is still under the illusion that “sustainable” logging is possible:

    CAFI recognises the desire for economic development via a more sustainable forestry sector. To achieve this, CAFI supports DRC’s commitment for improved governance in the forest sector, before the issuance of new logging concessions. This will help to meet the legal conditions under Congolese law for lifting the moratorium, as well as contributing to the fight against illegal logging and addressing some of the causes of deforestation in DRC. The technical and financial partners who are members of CAFI’s Board are ready to coordinate with the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development and the rest of the DRC government to work towards the respect of the principles of the Letter of Intent.