Greenpeace calls for urgent action to enforce decisions and protect Congo's remaining forests

Press release - 19 January, 2009
Releasing the final results of a World Bank-sponsored review of logging contracts, the Congolese government today announced that 65 contracts covering almost 10 million hectares will be converted into long-term logging concessions.

The results contradict the conclusions of a government-appointed technical working group, which previously recommended a reduction to 4.4 million hectares. Today's announcement comes after the government examined a series of appeals from logging companies whose contracts were to be cancelled. Nineteen out of 87 appeals were successful.

"It is a positive sign that the government did not yield completely to industry pressure. The contract cancellations now need to be implemented. We hope that the Congolese government will focus on protecting our forests and on putting in place a participatory national land use plan" said René Ngongo, Forest Policy Advisor for Greenpeace Africa. "Hopefully, the cancellation of the rejected logging contracts will create momentum to develop alternatives to industrial logging. However, the government must not yield to the delaying tactics of the forest industry, which is using the current international financial crisis to demand the elimination of taxes in the DRC, thus undermining agreed efforts to clean up the forest sector." (1)

Greenpeace warns however that many challenges remain, in particular with regard to weak governance in the DRC and the lack of control in the forestry sector. "It is unclear how the government will enforce the cancellations of contracts in the field, and how the operations of the approved logging concessions will be controlled," explained Ngongo.

The review process has been widely criticised, and an Independent Observer appointed by the government at the behest of the World Bank has acknowledged that legal criteria as basic as logging within permit boundaries were not verified (2). A 2002 moratorium on the issuing of new logging titles was blatantly violated, and a new Forest Law introduced in 2002 has to date not been implemented. Multinationals such as the Swiss Danzer Group and Liechtenstein-based Nordsüdtimber Group have obtained hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests under the pretext of "re-mapping" and "relocating" old permits (3).

Greenpeace urges the DRC government to maintain the moratorium on the allocation of new forest concessions until a national participatory land-use plan has been completed and meaningful forest governance is in place.

Local communities are angry and disappointed because giant trees are taken from their forests and nothing but destruction is left behind. The people of Africa stand to lose the most from climate impacts. The government needs to save the Congo forest not only for the sake of the global climate, but for the benefit of the Congolese people who depend on it and who are suffering from its continued plunder.

Other contacts: • Michelle Medeiros, Forest Campaigner, Greenpeace International, +31 6 46162041• Susanne Breitkopf, Forest Campaigner, Greenpeace International, +1 202 390 5586• Rene Ngongo, Forest Policy Advisor for Greenpeace Africa, +243 998334500

Notes: (1) Conference held by the Congolese Minister of Environment, Mr Jose Endundo, at the Rotary Club of Kinshasa on the subject of environment and the management of the forest patrimony of the Democratic Republic of Congo, at the French Circle in Kinshasa on 9 January 2009 (2)Report by the Independent Observer regarding the work of the inter ministerial commission on the conversation of old forest titles, 20 October 2008 [With financing from the World Bank, the government appointed the World Resources Insitute (WRI) and the Belgian-based consultancy AGRECO to act as an independent observer to the review www.rdc-conversiontitresforestiers.org ] (3)Logging Sector Briefing for the Democratic Republic of Congo: DRC logging review: The carving up of the Congo continues . http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/DRC-logging-sector-briefing. In "Conning the Congo", issued in July 2008, Greenpeace exposed the weaknesses of a process that failed to address issues of fundamental importance such as tax evasion and non-compliance with fiscal regulations. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/conning-the-congo