By Adrienne Engono Moussang and Jean Damascene Hakuzimana

Congo Basin Forests are facing challenges/Timber cutting and Dams/Photo Jean Damascene

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has again sounded the alarm on the risk of global catastrophe if nothing is done to curb global warming. And in its August 2021 report, the IPCC identified two forests as key to protecting against the impacts of climate change – the Amazon and Congo Basin forests.

Located in Central Africa, the Congo Basin forests are scattered across six countries, which include Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Republic of Congo. Also known as rainforests,

these areas are believed to be pivotal in the fight against climate change. In fact, some experts rank protection of the Congo Basin forests as more imperative even than those of the Amazon.

Massive peat bogs, located primarily in the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, contain up to 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Deforestation, and release of the CO2 from the peat bogs, could accelerate the warming of the planet. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) recognizes these forests, which represent 70% of Africa’s forest cover, as a leading stabilizer of regional and global climates. “They stock billions of tons of carbon,” said Jules Doret Ndongo, Cameroonian Minister of Forests and Wildlife, who also presides over the Central African Forests Commission which brings together 11 countries working to protect these forests.

The commission has been working around the clock to negotiate with international climate actors. Numerous promises came out of Climate COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021. With the help of Germany, France, Japan, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, South Korea, United Kingdom, and United States, Bezos Earth Fund allocated $1.5 billion (USD) for the Congo Basin forests. “

This is a promising commitment to preserve the forests of the Congo Basin.

Doret Ndongo

The forests are important homes for many species. “These forests cover around 300 million hectares. They host a variety of biodiversity. They are home to many animal and plant species, many of which are endemic, and provide many valuable ‘ecological services,’ both locally and regionally and for the entire planet,” noted Ndongo.. “These characteristics give the forests of the Congo Basin the value of a common good for all humanity, both for the current population and for future generations.”

Race to save forests has challenges

Though much has been done to save Congo Basin forests, many practices pose a risk to these same areas, according to Aristid Chacgom, who is an advocate from Green Development, a non-governmental organization based in Yaoundé, Cameroon. “Congo Basin forests face illegal logging and other activities like dam and road construction, agro-industry pressure, illegal
mining, fishing, and more,” said Chacgom, who believes that countries of the Congo Basin suffer from poor planning. “They aspire to work together, while they do not consult one another regularly.”

The Congo Basin lost more than 600,000 hectares of primary forests in 2020, an increase of 9% compared to 2019, according to recent University of Maryland data available on Global Forest Watch. In the past 20 years, 2020 was the third most difficult year for the world’s rainforests, according to data published March 31, 2021. The same data shows that the primary forest losses
have increased by 12% since 2019.

“In half a century, 10,000 hectares of mangroves were extinguished and 346,000 hectares of dense forests have been turned into land for other purposes in Cameroon, a huge loss that could be accelerated in coming years,” said Clotilde Ngomba, country director of World Wildlife Fund Cameroon. “We are appealing to decision makers to respect commitments made at national,
regional, and global levels to preserve these forests.”

Forests help protect carbon stock, as well as prevent greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, so deforestation is dangerous – forests are an important ally that can slow global warming by keeping carbon excess from the atmosphere. But governments can’t rely only on forests. They also have to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, farming, and more. Congo Basin countries have announced their Nationally Determined Contribution toward the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Cameroon hopes to reduce its emissions by 35% by 2030. But the reduction requires funding – the country needs about $56
billion (USD) to reach its goal.

African countries emit about 3% of the world’s greenhouse gasses, with most coming from industrialized nations like the U.S., China, and European countries. The region’s experts agree that the world’s industrialized countries bear responsibility and should pay a fair share, rather than depending on ecological services from the African continent, especially Congo Basin countries, which emit less pollution.