25 Million Hectares of Rainforest Threatened in DRC

Feature story - February 28, 2011
New decisions by the DRC government mean that up to 25 million hectares of Congolese rainforest could be sacrificed for industrial exploitation.

Deforesting the Congolese Rainforests

Logging is one of the major threats to the Congo Basin rainforest. In this photo workers use machinery to stack logs in a Sodefor logging concession in the village of Bossa. Sodefor is a logging company that operates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Expansion of logging into remaining areas of intact forests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will destroy globally critical carbon reserves and impact biodiversity. Beyond environmental impacts, logging in the region exacerbates poverty and leads to social conflicts.

Greenpeace is deeply concerned about the recent announcement that the Congolese government has legalised 15 additional logging titles in the Congo rainforest. In addition, it seems there are also plans to lift the current moratorium on industrial logging expansion.

In the long run, up to 40% of the Cong rainforests could be sacrificed for industrial exploitation.

These actions raise serious concerns and cast doubts on the DRC’s commitment, especially since the country is expected to assume the presidency of the African Countries Group in the international climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, at the end of 2011 .

2002 – 2011: How we got here

Back in 2002, facing the chaos of the logging industry sector in DRC, the government decided to enforce a moratorium on new forest titles and concessions. But as the State proved unable to control the situation on the ground, the moratorium was immediately and regularly violated.

In 2005, under the pressure of the World Bank, the government started a “legal review” of 156 forest titles, aiming to “clean up” the sector. At the beginning of 2009, the government revealed the legal review’s conclusion: 65 titles were officially converted into long term concessions.

In January, the Environment Minister announced the official closure of this process and the legalisation of 15 additional titles which had been previously been made illegal. Most importantly though, he spoke about lifting the moratorium.

In essence this means the allocation of around 15 million hectares – an area 5 times the size of Belgium – to a handful of companies. This despite the industry being denounced regularly for its scandalous practices, the social conflicts it encourages, and the fragmentation of intact forest it causes, with dire consequences on biodiversity and the climate.

Bad for the forest. Bad for forest communities. Bad for the climate.

Deforestation accounts for 15-20% of the global GHG emissions. The Congo Basin is home to the 2nd largest rainforest in the world (after the Amazon forest), and 80% of the world’s intact forests are in DRC. Intact forests are extremely rich in biodiversity, unknown plant species, and extraordinary wildlife with endemic, endangered primates such as the Bonobo. Moreover, 40 million Congolese depend on the forest for their livelihood.

So before deciding to allocate these vast forest areas to an activity, the Congolese government and international donors, including the World Bank, should develop an effective land use plan.

A viable REDD mechanism would include measures to protect the most important forests for biodiversity and climate, and must be accompanied by a socio-economical and sustainable development for forest communities.

Given the current socio-economic climate, it would be a scandal to lift the moratorium. Industrial logging is not a solution to protect the forests. Maintaining the moratorium should be the centre of any national strategy to protect the forests, leading to alternatives for a fair and sustainable development.

Along with other international NGOs (Rainforest Alliance, Global Witness and Bank Information Centre), Greenpeace has sent a joint letter to the Congolese government and the World Bank, asking them to commit to strengthen the moratorium.