Monday, November 11, 2013

Deforestation in the Congo Basin

     The Congo Basin in Central Africa encompasses the second largest rainforest area after the Amazon but the region remains one of the least developed in the world. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Central Africa lost approximately 91,000 km2 to deforestation in the 10 years between 1990 and 2000. The size of the region's forests was estimated at 2,403,000 km2 in 2000. Recent studies indicated that Congo Basin forests are under increased pressure with an average gross rate of deforestation two times higher over 2000-2005 than over 1990-2000 mainly due to agriculture expansion. The realization of the transportation infrastructures, which are already planned and funded, could multiply deforestation by three. Global forests have lost 130 million hectare (321 million acre) between 1990 and 2009 and carbon emissions from deforestation represent around 12% of total global green house gas emission.
     However, there’s a more serious factor affecting the prospects of the Congo Basin forests: unrelenting timber demand from around the world. China, Europe and the US are importing vast quantities of wood products; these are powerful incentives for the continued extraction of wood from the Congo Basin forests.
     Since 2008, the Reducing Emission from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) Initiative has become an important part of the discussion around the post Kyoto Agreement on climate change. The main principle of REDD+ is that the international community should transfer money to developing countries which make efforts to reduce deforestation and improve forest management.
     Since forest clearance for subsistence farming and the logging industry are crucial causes of the massive deforestation, the principal issue in this case is not just how to stop forest depletion, but how to manage forest resources effectively and efficiently. These articles discuss environmental damages that Africa can face if some resolutions are not taken on forest management. The unique solution is not just the compensation from international community, but Congo Basin’s countries must improve their forest management locally. For instance, they should start by environmental education of rural populations. Local governments should promote planting trees, and promote national parks to protect endangered plants and animals. Since large-scale timber operators are also involved in the deforestation process, local governments should impose higher taxes on wood extraction licenses. Those companies must also contribute financially on the process of planting trees. Additionally, Congo Basin countries should provide alternative forms of energy such as hydroelectric and solar power to reduce massive fuel wood use.
     Furthermore, Congo Basin’s countries can follow initiatives such as the Green Belt Movement (GBM) founded in 1977 by the late Nobel Peace Price winner, Prof. Wangari Maathai. The GBM has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya. The GBM works at the grassroots, national, and international level to promote environmental conservation, to build climate resilience and empower communities, and to foster democratic space and sustainable livelihoods. Finally, since carbon emissions from deforestation in Congo Basin represent around 12% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, with an estimated forest carbon reserve of 46 billion tons, this problem of deforestation will have negative environmental impacts on the entire world. Therefore, the international community must definitely help countries in that region to solve the problem of deforestation.
--Abdel Mouncharou

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