- The newly-elected government of Congo Kinshasa (DRC) has presented wide-ranging efforts and plans to save its forests - the largest and most important on African soil. Irregular logging is already being stopped and a large number of reserves are being planned, following the example of conservation successes in Gabon, Cameroon and Congo Brazzaville.
At an international conference on sustainable forest management held recently in Brussels, Congolese Environment Minister Didace Pembe Bokiaga solemnly committed his newly-elected Kinshasa government to what donors call "a revolutionary package of reforms" to boost the country's nascent conservation efforts, and focus attention on Africa's imperilled forests.
Congo Kinshasa's forests "represent an inestimable natural richness, and are the planet's last natural lungs," said Armand de Decker, the Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation and conference host in opening remarks. "Saving the Congolese forest contributes to poverty reduction and also to protecting humanity's ecological heritage."
Congolese Minister Bokiaga was praised for his government's critical reforms, such as maintaining the moratorium on new logging, launching a legal review of existing concessions, and providing legal recognition for the rights of indigenous people. But donors also called for new financing mechanisms to bolster conservation, including payment for environmental services such as carbon sequestration and biodiversity protection.
Efforts so far have been far-reaching. Congo Kinshasa, just emerging from a fractious civil war, has already cancelled illegal forest concessions affecting over 25 million hectares, an area as large as the United Kingdom.
According to the World Bank and environmentalists present at the conference, Kinshasa is now following in the footsteps of neighbours in the tropical forest region of Africa. "The good news is that not only has Africa caught up with other tropical regions, but as these examples show, it is also taking the lead in forest management, certification and fighting corruption and illegal logging," according to the World Bank.
The Congo's northern neighbours indeed have made great efforts to protect their forests during the last few years. Cameroon has reduced forest harvests and improved governance while introducing a taxation system that channels over US$ 12 million to local communities per year. Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville and Gabon are further positioning international, independent observers to help fight illegal logging and corruption.
"Raising the bar in terms of environmental stewardship and governance is critical to protecting Central Africa's unique patrimony of forest assets," noted Philippe Ong Seng, Executive Director, who represents Congo Basin countries on the World Bank's executive board. "African leaders have embarked on a new and ambitious generation of reforms, grounded in local realities, to stem the tide of destruction threatening the rainforests," he added.
Congo Basin countries have created over 6 million hectares of new protected areas only during the past five years. Today, in the Congo Basin, sustainable forest management is advancing more quickly than any tropical region, according to environmentalists.
With peace and a new government in Kinshasa, also the region's biggest and most forested nation is now participating in these efforts to save the forests. "We are still at the beginning, but this is an entirely new ball game with all Congo Basin countries moving forward, at differing paces and sometimes halting steps, toward the goal of better managing their forests," said Giuseppe Topa, the World Bank lead forestry specialist for the Africa region.
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