Congo rainforest needs greater protection

Feature story - 19 January, 2009
The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has recently completed a World Bank sponsored review of the logging industry with some positive results. Yet it has allowed an expansion of the industry to more than twice the recommended size.

The logging industry operating in the Congo basin - is increasingly destroying one of the most ecologically important forest areas on the planet and the DRC government is not doing enough to stop it

Following the review, the DRC government refused 68 out of 87 appeals against cancelled logging contracts. Such a high number of rejections is a positive sign that it is starting to take a stand against the logging industry in order to protect the forest and the communities that rely on it. But there is still a lack of governance and enforcement within the industry. The rainforest is in urgent need of stronger protection.

The government appointed a technical working group to review all existing logging contracts. This group advised that new long-term logging areas be reduced to 4.4 million hectares but the government has approved 65 new logging contracts totalling 9 million hectares.

Legal Logging?

The recent DRC logging review has been widely criticised and an independent observer appointed by the government at the request of the World Bank has acknowledged that none of the review criteria was properly verified. A 2002 moratorium on new logging concessions has been violated and the Forest Law that was passed 6 years ago is still to be implemented.

Multinational timber companies such as the Swiss Danzer Group and the Portuguese company Nord Timber have obtained hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforest for logging and under the pretext of "remapping". To date 15 million hectares of forest has been allocated through this dubious practice.

Clearly many challenges remain for the fight to save this forest but the DRC government must continue to resist pressure from greedy international timber companies. Affected communities have been systematically excluded from the logging review process and crucial information such as maps, contracts and logging plans have not been made available at the local level - or elsewhere.

Local people also lack the right to appeal logging decisions. The DRC desperately needs to develop a land use plan that takes into account the needs of the Congolese people.

DRC government must continue to stand strong

The Congo basin is of incalculable importance not only in terms of biodiversity and resources for local people but also as a giant carbon store that is essential for climate protection. It is the fourth largest forest carbon reservoir in the world. Yet over 25 percent of this precious ecosystem is controlled by the logging industry. If logging is allowed to continue at the projected rate, the DRC alone risks losing 40 percent of its forest within the next 40 years.

We hope that the latest logging contract cancellations will create momentum for developing alternatives to industrial logging. Benefits from avoiding deforestation can actually yield higher incomes.

Companies are cutting trees faster than ever in the Congo with no regard for social and environmental consequences. In order to stop this - we are calling for the adoption of an international financing mechanism, Forests for Climate, that makes the Congo Basin rainforest, and others like it, more economically valuable when left intact than when hacked down for timber.This international funding mechanism would address biodiversity, equity and social issues while helping to protect the global climate.

Deforestation accounts for about one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions and replacing industrial logging in the DRC by an internationally-backed forest protection system would not only be financially beneficial to the people of the DRC - it would make the country a key climate protector.

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