Greenpeace opens an office in the DRC

Calls on the government to act swiftly to protect the Congo's forests

Feature story - November 24, 2008
Greenpeace today marked the opening of its office in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by welcoming Congolese officials aboard its ship, the Arctic Sunrise, currently docked in Matadi, the country's principal port for timber exports.

Approximately 40 million people in the DRC depend on the rainforest for their basic needs, such as medicine, food or shelter.

A logger's children stand in front of afrormosia logs chopped down by their father, who makes 400 Congolese Francs (less than US$1) a day in an area controlled by the Belgian-American logging giant Safbois. Afrormosia is a protected tree species whose international trade needs to be strictly regulated. Approximately 40 million people in the DRC depend on the rainforest for their basic needs, such as medicine, food or shelter.

The inauguration takes place as the legality review of 156 logging titles in the DRC nears its end and on the eve of critical climate talks in Posnan, Poland, where forest protection is expected to be a central focus.

Greenpeace demands complete transparency from the Congolese government as it completes the legal review of 156 logging titles. The first phase of this process resulted in the validation of 46 forest titles covering approximately 7 million hectares of forest. Eighty-one of the logging companies whose titles were rejected in the first phase have submitted appeals to the interministerial commission in charge of the process. Greenpeace expects the government to respect the criteria laid out in the 2005 presidential decree regarding the review of these titles.

"The Congolese government must not give into pressure from the logging industry, which is currently doing all it can to highjack the legality process. Clearly what the industry wants is to keep control of some 10 million additional hectares of illegally acquired forest," said René Ngongo, a policy advisor with Greenpeace Africa.

Ngongo went on to say that "those who exploit the forests are expecting the legality review to approve the greatest number of logging concessions possible. They are using the international financial crisis - which has had an impact on the logging industry just as it has on most every other industry - as a pretext for getting around the objective legal criteria already established by the government."

Over 60% of DRC's population depends directly or indirectly on the country's forests for subsistence. It is the duty of the government to protect the forests and not give into a political deal favouring an industry that is today directly responsible for the pillage and degradation of the Congo forests. Greenpeace also believes that it is essential the forests be kept intact so that the Congolese people may benefit from international funds currently being established to protect tropical forests. That way Congolese can earn money by preventing the destruction of their forests.

The next United Nations climate talks are set to take place in Posnan, Poland from December 1 - 12. One of the negotiator's principal goals will be the creation of a mechanism to finance the fight against greenhouse gas emissions caused by the deforestation and degradation of tropical forests. Greenpeace's 'Forests for Climate' financing mechanism is designed to protect the rights of forest populations, while also protecting biodiversity and fighting climate change.

"Let us take advantage of this unique opportunity to mobilise international financial institutions so that their objective becomes putting an end to the destruction of tropical forests", declared Amadou Kanoute, Executive Director Greenpeace Africa.

"Given the situation, it is essential that the DRC government sends this strong message to the international community: all forest titles acquired illegally must be annulled so that the people of the DRC may fully benefit from an internationally agreed mechanism for the financing of forest protection. "

At today's launch Amadou Kanoute briefly talked about why Greenpeace has decided to go ahead with the opening of its office in DRC at a time when very serious conflict continues in the eastern part of the country. "Greenpeace has been working in the DRC for several years and we have seen first hand the terrible tragedy. We feel strongly that it must stop. However, 40 million people depend on the Congo's forests for their livelihood and we must continue to protect those livelihoods. Given the current climate crisis it is also essential that the international community agrees on a forests-for-climate mechanism."

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