Congo's forest protector receives Right Livelihood Award

Feature story - December 4, 2009
As Barack Obama prepares to pick up a Peace Prize he's yet to earn, a truly deserving activist collects the Alternative Nobel Prize for his work to save the forests of the Congo.

René Ngongo, Greenpeace Africa political advisor and winner of the 2009 Right Livelihood Award.

René Ngongo, Greenpeace Africa Political Advisor and civil society activist for 18 years, today received the Right Livelihood Award at the Swedish Parliament for his dedicated, and at times dangerous, work in defending the rights and livelihood of Democratic Republic of Congo's forest communities.   

The Right Livelihood Award Foundation recognised Ngongo "for his courage in confronting the forces that are destroying the Congo's rainforests and building political support for their conservation and sustainable use."  

Accepting his award, René said "I humbly receive this honour on behalf of many of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's poor communities for whom the forest is a source of livelihood, a supermarket, a pharmacy and an heirloom. If we do not continue to raise our voices against the destruction of these ancient forests, their future and our very own existence is at stake".   

"René Ngongo is a real leader. He has acted to protect the Democratic Republic of the Congo's forests and to protect its people," said Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, who was present at the ceremony. "Just days before the beginning of the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit this award signals the critical importance of working to save the world's forests, not only for the people who depend on them, but also for their role in preventing catastrophic climate change."

One fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation. Left intact, the tropical rainforests of the Congo, the Amazon, and Inonesia act like a mighty set of planetary lungs, absorbing CO2 from human activity.

Forests on the table in Copenhagen

In Copenhagen, we're demanding the developed nations put real money on the table to protect rainforests. But we're also having to snap at the heels of global institutions which are still funding forest destruction.

Yesterday, Ngongo put his signature to an open letter to the World Bank, principal financier of Congolese forest reform, along with Greenpeace, Global Witness and The Rainforest Foundation. The letter exposes the environmental and social chaos caused by multinational timber companies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and criticizes the Bank's role in promoting industrial logging of rainforests in the name of development.

The Bank needs to promote viable alternatives that benefit the Congolese people and the global climate. The World Bank's position in favour of logging may also influence the climate negotiations under the guise of so-called "sustainable forest management". Instead, efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation must on the contrary exclude incentives for more forest destruction, such as industrial logging and conversion of forests into plantations. Agreements in Copenhagen should provide a reliable fund to promote alternatives.  

Wars in the forest

Ngongo has dedicated his life to activism. In the midst of raging conflict, he tirelessly pushed for an end to illegal exploitation of his country's natural resources, collecting abundant evidence on timber and mineral extraction under sometimes life-threatening conditions. In 1994, Ngongo founded the Democratic Republic of the Congo's influential environment organisation, OCEAN. Ngongo has been able to build a strong network and momentum for better protection of the world's second largest rainforest.

"Today we are very proud as René joins a group of leaders who are not afraid to stand up for the best sustainable options for their communities and environment," said Michelle Ndiaye Ntab, Greenpeace Africa Executive Director.  

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