Photo: Minister Ambatobe (center) attends the COP23 climate summit. Photo: Nounou Ngoie/Radio Okapi
The Congolese Minister of Environment, Amy Ambatobe, has reinstated 6,500 km² of logging concessions that were cancelled in August 2016 by the then Environment Minister Robert Bopolo following instructions from then Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo. The revelations are brought to light in a joint statement by Rainforest Foundation UK, Rainforest Foundation Norway, Global Witness and Greenpeace Africa.
The three concessions reinstated on 1 February 2018 were awarded to the Chinese-owned logging companies Forestière pour le Développement du Congo (FODECO) and Société La Millénaire Forestière (SOMIFOR). Two of the concessions overlap with a recently discovered peatland deposit covering 145,000 km² and believed to contain 30 billion tons of carbon. Expanding industrial logging into these areas is considered to be among the biggest threats facing them.
In October 2017, the mainly Norwegian-funded Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) greenlighted the transfer of USD 41.2 million to the DRC’s national fund for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). This was supposed to be done only after the Congolese government put in place a “robust action plan” with internal oversight measures. However, CAFI’s failure to insist on measures to prevent future breaches of the moratorium has meant that significant funds have been disbursed in the absence of due diligence.
During a photo opportunity aboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on October 31 2017, the DRC Environment Minister solemnly committed himself to the protection of the country's peatlands by stating: “I'm sending here a message to the entire international community for the mobilisation of funding and to help DRC Government to protect these sensitive areas and to improve the livelihood of communities living around these peatlands."
In June, RFUK published research showing the potential environmental impact of lifting of DRC's logging moratorium, a move that could release billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Simon Counsell, Executive Director of Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK), said: “The issuing of new logging concessions sends a clear signal to the international community that the DRC government is abandoning any pretence at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Any new large-scale logging operations on peatland forests in particular are likely to cause massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Donors such as Norway and the World Bank will need to reconsider whether REDD programmes in DRC are credible and supportable.”
Read the full joint statement here.