The future of the world’s second largest contiguous rainforest hangs in the balance as the Congolese authorities and international donors consider a proposal to triple the area given out to commercial loggers.
The rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, (DRC), have been relatively safe since 2002 when an official ban on the issuing of areas to logging companies was adopted. There have been several proposals to lift this forest-saving moratorium ever since, all fortunately rejected, usually after strong opposition from groups such as RFUK and Greenpeace, along with anti-corruption organisations such as Global Witness.
But now the threat to hand more forest over to timber companies has been revived by the government of France, and could see destructive logging expanded over pristine rainforest the size of Great Britain. Scandalously, the project would be funded by the Government of Norway through a scheme - the Central African Forest Initiative, (CAFI) - which is supposed to be 'protecting' Congo’s forests.
Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment, which would fund the programme, has said that it is “definitely” good to support commercial logging in Congo’s rainforest. Apparently ignoring all the evidence of what logging companies do in the real Congo, he claims that such logging would be carried out “in a careful manner in which selected individual trees are harvested and operates in a manner that benefits the local population and the nation as a whole.”
Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s Minister for Climate and the Environment [Credit: Stenersen, Tor]
Along with other groups, RFUK has been pointing out that tripling the area of logging in the Congo will have devastating impacts on forest wildlife such as bonobos and elephants, will damage resources needed by local communities, will bring no economic benefits to the country and will likely fuel corruption and massive illegal logging. According to conservative estimates, the increased logging and damage to DRC's forests would cause the release of a staggering additional six hundred millions tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, or around twelve times Norway’s own annual carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
Simon Counsell of the Rainforest Foundation UK said: “The proposed programme in DRC is based on a fundamentally flawed analysis of what is causing deforestation in the Congo and what is needed to stop it. Norway’s priority seems to be to get its money out of the door, regardless of the impact. CAFI is turning into a case study of how not to protect forests with international funding. We urge Mr Helgesen, the Government of Norway, and other international donors to firmly reject any proposals that involve the expansion of large-scale logging in the DRC - and instead to give local communities the chance to manage forests sustainably for their own benefit.”