Kinshasa, June 14, 2019 – Greenpeace Africa and scientists from the Universities of Leeds (UK) and Kisangani (DRC) are organising an expedition to the peatlands of the Congo Basin forest, with journalists from national and international media joining them from the 16th to 18th of June, in Equateur Province. The aim is to understand the dynamics of this rich ecosystem, containing about 30 billion tonnes of carbon on an area of 145.000km2.

As part of the CongoPeat project, which began in 2017, led by Professor Simon Lewis, journalists will accompany the team conducting this scientific research in the peatlands of the world’s second largest rainforest. This wet and carbon-rich ecosystem is still mostly intact.

In November 2017, the same research team conducted an expedition in the province of Equateur, which confirmed the presence of peatlands in the Democratic Republic of Congo, revealing to the world the carbon bomb within the Congolese forests.

However, the integrity of this  ecosystem is now threatened by the oil and timber exploitation approved by the government of the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is therefore crucial to protect the peatlands. For this protection to be effective, it is important that local and indigenous communities living within and around peatlands to be included in any initiative geared towards protecting peatlands, in addition to scientific knowledge. The scientific research will improve knowledge on the functioning and the value of this ecosystem in the fight against the climate crisis.

Driven by economic interest at the expense of the environment, both governments are ignoring the fragile nature of the peatlands, as well as  the negative impacts of industrial activities in the peatlands.

It is now important to ring the alarm in national and international media about a possible upcoming climate risk, as well as biodiversity loss while calling for the preservation of peatlands of the Congo Basin forest, the second lung of the planet.

 

Contact :

Afy Malungu, Communications Officer, +243 991 521 250, amalungu@greenpeace.org

 

 

Facts and figures on the Congo Basin rainforest’s peatlands

 

  1. The peatlands

What is peat? What are peatlands?

  • Peat is composed of accumulated, partially decayed plant material with or without

admixed sand, silt or clay. Peat forms under high water saturation conditions that inhibit

the decay of organic matter.[1]

  • Peatlands are areas with a naturally accumulated peat layer at the surface of at least

0.3m depth.[2]

  • Peat formation in the central Congo basin started more than 10,000 years ago. To

date, scientists have measured peat depths of up to 5.9m in the Republic of the Congo

and of up to 3.5m in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The median depth is 2m.[3]

 

What about the Congo Basin peatlands ?

  • The peat swamp forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the

Congo harbour the most extensive peatland complex in the tropics, called the central Congo basin peatlands or Cuvette Centrale peatlands. The peatland area is estimated at 14 million hectares[4], which is larger than the size of England, but represents less than 10%

of the area of the Congo basin rainforest.[5] Approximately 2,900,000 hectares of mapped

forested peatland are under logging concessions. The Congo basin peatlands are not

the largest peatland complex in the world: larger peatland areas are found in the boreal

region.

  • The Congo basin peatlands, representing less than 10% of the Congo basin rainforest

area, are estimated to store more than 30 billion tons of carbon, a quantity similar to the

amount of carbon stored in all the trees of the entire Congo basin rainforest.[6]

  • The amount of carbon stored in the peatlands is the equivalent of three years of global

CO2 emissions, based on 2013 figures.

  • The Congo basin peatlands contains one third of the world’s tropical peatland carbon

stock, which is estimated at 105 billion tons.[7]

  • The peat stores carbon (C) – not the gas carbon dioxide (CO2). Only when the peat

decomposes, the carbon will be released as CO2.

 

Why must the Congo basin peatlands be conserved?

  • Conserving the Congo basin peatlands is critical to maintain climate stability and prevent

runaway climate change.

  • If the Congo basin peatlands are drained for logging or agriculture, the carbon that has

accumulated over more than 10,000 years will be released as CO2 into the atmosphere,

exacerbating climate change. Emissions from drained peat continue over a period of

decades, tailing off as the carbon store runs out.

  • Once drained, peatlands become vulnerable to fire. Burning of peatlands releases CO2

into the atmosphere rapidly and damages the capacity of the peatland ecosystem to

recover and absorb more carbon again.

  • Plants fix carbon from the atmosphere. Instead of being released again when the plants die

and decompose, in peatlands this carbon is placed in long-term storage in the peat layer

beneath the vegetation. Conserving peatlands is crucial to maintain their capacity to keep

carbon out of the atmosphere.

 

What is the role of the Congo basin rainforest in regional climate?

  • The Congo basin rainforest strongly modulates regional climate, especially rainfall

patterns. Over 50% of the rainfall over the region comes from evapotranspiration, the

sum of the loss of moisture by evaporation from land and water surfaces and by

transpiration from plants.[8]

  • The Congo basin rainforest is the second most important convective ‘engine’ of the

global atmospheric circulation after insular Southeast Asia and the surrounding waters. In

transition seasons (March-May and September-November), the Congo basin dominates

global tropical rainfall.[9]

 

  1. People and the Congo Basin rainforest
  • People have lived in the Congo basin rainforest for at least 50,000 years.[10]
  • An estimated 30 million people live in the Congo basin rainforest.[11] The Congo basin rainforest provides subsistence means, including fuel, food, materials and medicine, to approximately 60 million people living in the rural areas of the region.[12] Two thirds of them are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[13] Not all of the people relying on the forest are indigenous people.
  • The Congo basin rainforest also contributes to feed approximately 40 million people living in urban centres in the region.[14]

 

III.           Biodiversity

 

  • The Congo basin rainforest counts over 10,000 plant species, of which 3,000 are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else on earth.[15]
  • Concerning animal biodiversity, the Congo basin rainforest hosts more than 400 mammal species, 1,000 bird species, 200 amphibian species, 300 reptile species and more than 900 butterfly species[16].
  • The main centres of animal endemism in the Congo basin rainforest are the coastal part (southern Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon) and the Albertine Rift.[17]
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been identified by Conservation International as one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world, based on endemism and other criteria like species diversity, ecosystem diversity and the presence of tropical rainforest ecosystems.[18]
  • While the Congo basin rainforest as a whole is not a biodiversity hotspot, the western and eastern edges of it are. The rainforests of western Cameroon are part of the Guinean Forests of West Africa biodiversity hotspot and the rainforests of the Albertine Rift are part of the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot.[19] The notion of ‘biodiversity hotspots’ refers to places where exceptional concentrations of endemic species are undergoing exceptional loss of habitat.[20] It was developed by Norman Meyers and adopted by the NGO Conservation International as a tool to prioritize conservation efforts.
  • 11% of the more than 400 mammal species in the Congo basin forest are threatened, 1% of the known bird species and 15% of the near 300 known amphibian species.[21]

 

  1. Deforestation and degradation

 

What causes forest degradation in the Congo basin?

  • Logging for timber extraction is the main cause of forest degradation in the Congo

basin.[22] This covers both legal and illegal logging, both industrial logging as artisanal forms

of logging, both logging in long term managed concessions and logging with short term

permits.

  • Growing urban demand for fuelwood (including charcoal) in the region is another major

cause of degradation and deforestation, especially in peri-urban areas. Both in Cameroon

(83% of the population) and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (87% of Kinshasa

households), households depend largely on fuelwood for daily cooking.[23]

 

How much intact forest landscapes are there in the Congo basin?

  • In 2013, the Congo basin forest counted 86 million hectares of intact forest landscapes

(IFL), 7% of the world’s remaining IFLs. More than 70% of the Congo

basin’s IFLs were in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which on its own contains

5% of the world’s IFLs.[24]

 

[1] John Couwenberg, ‘Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Managed Peat Soils: Is the IPCC

Reporting Guidance Realistic?’, Mires & Peat, 8 (2011), 1.

[2] F. Parish et al. (eds), Assessment on Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change. Main

Report (Kuala Lumpur & Wageningen: Global Environment Centre & Wetlands International,

2008), xv, online:

<http://www.imcg.net/media/download_gallery/books/assessment_peatland.pdf>.

[3] Dargie et al., op. cit., (note 11), 86.

[4] Greta C. Dargie et al., ‘Age, Extent and Carbon Storage of the Central Congo Basin Peatland

Complex’, Nature, 542, 7639 (2017), 86.

[5] Greta C. Dargie et al., ‘Congo Basin Peatlands: Threats and Conservation Priorities’,

Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change (2018), online:

<http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s11027-017-9774-8>, accessed 29 January 2018.

[6] Dargie et al., op. cit., (note 11), 86

[7] Dargie et al., op. cit., (note 11), 86.

[8] Devers and vande Weghe, op. cit., (note 4), 13.

[9] J. B. Fisher et al., ‘African Tropical Rainforest Net Carbon Dioxide Fluxes in the Twentieth

Century’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 368, 1625

(2013), 1; Malhi et al., op. cit., (note 8), 6.

[10] Devers and vande Weghe, op. cit., (note 4), 14.

[11] Devers and vande Weghe, op. cit., (note 4), 14. There are no reliable censuses or surveys

about the number of people living in the Congo Basin forest, hence these figures are

notoriously unreliable. According to a 1997 publication, approximately 12 million lived in the

humid tropical forest area. ; Daou V. Joiris, ‘Introduction régionale’, Civilisations, 44 (1997), 32.

[12] R. Nasi et al., ‘Empty Forests, Empty Stomachs? Bushmeat and Livelihoods in the Congo

and Amazon Basins’, International Forestry Review, 13, 3 (2011), 360.

[13] L. Debroux et al. (eds), Forests in Post-Conflict Democratic Republic of Congo: Analysis of a

Priority Agenda. A Joint Report by Teams of the World Bank, Center for International Forestry

Research (CIFOR), Centre International de Recherche Agronomique Pour Le Développement

(CIRAD), African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Conseil National Des ONG de Développement Du

Congo (CNONGD), Conservation International (CI), Groupe de Travail Forêts (GTF), Ligue

Nationale Des Pygmées Du Congo (LINAPYCO), Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV),

Réseau Des Partenaires Pour l’Environnement Au Congo (REPEC), Wildlife Conservation

Society (WCS), Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC), World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and

World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). (Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR, 2007), ix.

[14] Nasi et al., op. cit., (note 29), 360.

[15] Devers and vande Weghe, op. cit., (note 4), 11.

[16]  http://www.wwf-congobasin.org/congo_basin_at_a_glance/area/wildlife/

[17] G. Duveiller et al., ‘Deforestation in Central Africa: Estimates at Regional, National and

Landscape Levels by Advanced Processing of Systematically-Distributed Landsat Extracts’,

Remote Sensing of Environment, 112, 5 (2008), 1969–81.

[18] UN environment and WCMC, ‘Megadiverse Countries Definition’, Biodiversity A-Z (n.d.),

online: <http://www.biodiversitya-z.org/content/megadiverse-countries>, accessed 30

November 2017.

[19] Birdlife International, Ecosystem Profile. Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot (Critical

Ecosystem Partnership Fund, 2012), online:

<http://www.cepf.net/Documents/Eastern_Afromontane_Ecosystem_Profile_FINAL.pdf>,

accessed 25 September 2017; Ecosystem Profile. Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem of the

Guinean Forests of West Africa Biodiversity Hotspot (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund,

2000), online:

<http://www.cepf.net/Documents/final.guineanforests.upperguineanforest.ep.pdf>.

[20] Norman Myers et al., ‘Biodiversity Hotspots for Conservation Priorities’, Nature, 403, 6772

(2000), 853–858.

[21] Devers and vande Weghe, op. cit., (note 4), 2; IUCN, ‘Afropavo Congensis: BirdLife

International: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: E.T22679430A92814166’

(International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2016), online:

<http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22679430/0>, accessed 30 November 2017.

[22] Bérenger Tchatchou et al., Deforestation and Forest Degradation in the Congo Basin: State

of Knowledge, Current Causes and Perspectives. Occasional Paper 144 (Center for

International Forestry Research (CIFOR), 2015), 28, online:

<http://www.cifor.org/library/5894/deforestation-and-forest-degradation-in-the-congo-basinstate-

of-knowledge-current-causes-and-perspectives/>, accessed 8 March 2016.

[23] R. Eba’a Atyi et al., ‘Economic and Social Importance of Fuelwood in Cameroon’,

International Forestry Review, 18, 2 (2016), online:

<http://www.cifor.org/library/6098/economic-and-social-importance-of-fuelwood-incameroon/>,

accessed 2 October 2016; Jolien Schure et al., Woodfuel for Urban Centres in

the Democratic Republic of Congo: The Number One Energy and Forest Product Returns to

the Policy Agenda. Civor Brief No. 7 (CIFOR, 2011).

[24] Peter Potapov et al., ‘The Last Frontiers of Wilderness: Tracking Loss of Intact Forest

Landscapes from 2000 to 2013’, Science Advances, 3, 1 (2017), 4–5.