Op-ed by Ngembeni Wa Namasso, special to mongabay.com
The Declaration on REDD+ expected as part of ongoing climate talks in Durban, South Africa, by the Central Africa Commission on Forests (COMIFAC) and some donor countries, was released, Wednesday, December 07, 2011.
To many observers this declaration is a ritual and therefore, expected after every meeting by ‘high-level’ decision-makers on forests from that part of the World. However, closer examination would reveal evidence of donor inertia; three tendencies – the forward, the going-it-alone and the going-along; some cracks appearing in the commission, and some face-saving gestures made.
Firstly, there is good news! The Congo Basin remains strongly committed to forest management; yet, it is a zone experiencing low investment in the forestry sector, insufficient flexibility in REDD+ readiness and weak integration of the forestry sector with growing pressures for land from international investors. The bad news is however that, moving towards a genuine and tangible consensus for REDD+ in the Congo Basin will require much more than intentions and declarations.
Firstly, the prominence of ‘intent’ in the title of the declaration is telling. From the region’s recent history on REDD+ since Bali in 2007, through COP16 2010 Cancun, Mexico, to the grand standing of the “Summit of 3 Tropical Forest Basins of the World” held in Brazzaville, May/June 2011, rounding-off 2011 with a declaration of intent seems a bit lame. Few can see COMIFAC, led by the vigorous doyen of Central African forestry, architect of the Brazzaville summit; H.E. Henri Djombo of the Republic of Congo, settling for a declaration of ‘intent! A declaration with ‘intent’ as the highest water mark is covered by the fingerprints of donor inertia.
For observers of the REDD+ process in the Congo Basin, COMIFAC countries exhibit three types of attitude vis-à-vis REDD+ readiness. Type 1 – are the forward countries with high forest/people ratio, weak road infrastructure and prospects for immediate foreign investments. Type 1 countries generally expect substantial windfalls from rapid REDD+. The republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo fall into this first category. Type 2 – are countries going-it-one, somewhat trending away from the REDD+ option as currently structured. They have a strong natural resources base, higher prospects for foreign investments. They also have a high forest/people ratio and a strongly independent, even nationalist character. Gabon and Equatorial Guinea fall in this Category. Type 3 – are countries going-along, fearing negative reciprocity if they don’t. These countries have enjoyed historic forestry leadership and have made investments in COMIFAC. Some have perhaps dwindling forests; they enjoy better road infrastructure and therefore relatively lower cost of foreign investments. Cameroon falls under this category. With shaky commitment to REDD+ Types 2 & 3 are actively espousing greater creativity and flexibility in REDD+ options. Type 1 countries on the other hand seem impatient for a faster REDD+ mechanism.
These apparent cracks in the COMIFAC facade are also demonstrated by the number of State flags not appended to the declaration. Of the ten (10) members of COMIFAC, the Flags of Sao Tome & Principe, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are not included. This casts a shadow on the traditional togetherness of ‘COMIFAC’. Of the seven whose flags are appended, Chad, though proud of its parklands is not a typical forest country. The Central Africa Republic boasts modest amounts of tropical forests. Still the bulk of Chad is non forest. Rwanda and Burundi are both countries with relatively high population densities, Montaigne woodlands and small surface areas.
If the pre-Cancun/COP16, Brazzaville summit of May/June 2011 is anything to go by, it seems this declaration has been pushed by H.E. Henry Djombo, Minister of Sustainable Development, Forest Economy and the Environment of the Republic of Congo, and doyen of Central Africa Forestry Ministries. Some pundits would make light of this longevity, expecting rivalry, between the two Congos. After all, the DRC has more than 60% of the region’s forests. However, it may be precisely because of DRC’s forests and H.E. Henri Djombo’s longevity that, leadership advances by DRC’s H.E. Edouado Endundu, would clearly be overkill. With a below par Brazzaville summit on ‘3 forest Basins’, it seems quite plausible that this Durban Declaration is a success for H.E. Henry Djombo and a grace – saving act for COMIFAC.
In keeping with the spirit of the declaration however, a number of concrete steps must be taken.
In the coming years the COMIFAC region must explore a number of concrete sustainable forest management solutions. For decades forest governance has been talked about as if it belonged in another era, and little done to build capacity so citizen actors can be incentivized to take greater part in managing forests. With possible incentive mechanisms on the horizon the technical requirements for managing forest carbon seem clear and so are sustainable benefits from forests. It is now also clear that forests must be made more valuable standing, than converted. Investments in forests should lead directly to stronger local and national capacity to manage and market diverse products and services from natural forests without destroying them. Proxy – or less than direct strategies for managing natural forests have not succeeded.
Approaches to REDD+ must become more creative and longer term. Sub national options for marketing carbon under specific national circumstances should be looked at on case by case, country-by-country bases more carefully. More of the same medicine, for all countries is clearly not working and some countries are choosing other options and going-it-alone or just going-along for reasons other than sustainable forest management. The use of donor funds to support REDD+ should be directed towards investments in keeping forests, natural by moving to a higher level of valorization of products and services from natural forests.
The use of the term ‘Country’ in international forest policy communications needs to be clearly unpacked to mean not national governments or their representatives exclusively, but all the citizens in the COMIFAC countries – each according to their skills, interest and resources, and including state agents. Such distinction is now necessary as more citizens have or are acquiring needed knowledge and skills and want to become involved; to work as partners with foreign collaborators and their governments. Citizens no longer want to be ‘convened’ by Government or foreign experts as has been the status quo. Arguably, State forestry agents in COMIFAC countries are currently over-saturated with responsibilities, while sectors like national research, institutions of higher learning, nongovernmental organizations and ordinary entrepreneurs can often be without business, without funds and resources with which to support the forestry sector. Diversification of support to all these sectors is the way to go for forest and climate work in the Congo Basin.
Finally, COMIFAC countries must clearly demonstrate awareness of how global demands for agricultural lands are being taken on-board in current forest and climate change mitigation work. The only way skills can be developed, focus maintained on competing land and forest uses; make citizens into actors, take-on their livelihoods concerns, their fears and interests, is to enlarge the forest and climate process and to support a truly national consensus; one that is measurable, verifiable and reportable.
A new campaign by Do Something.org is working to motivate teens in the U.S. to recycle. With the opportunity to win free movie tickets or even a $500 scholarship for college, the campaign, working with Nestle Waters, brings the plight of trash home through illustrative statistics such as the fact that the average American throws away four pounds of trash everyday.
Do Something.org works to inspire teens to get involved in changing the world through online and real-world activism, while Nestle Waters is working to achieve 50 percent recycling rates of bottles in the U.S. by 2018. Generally, the US recycles less than other developed nations.
Note: as a news organization mongabay.com does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue in comments.
Horton Plains slender loris. Photo courtesy of EDGE.
Researchers estimate that only 80 Horton Plains slender loris (Loris tardigradus nycticeboides) survive in the world. After believed to be extinct ZSL EDGE rediscovered the subspecies in a dwindling Sri Lanka forest in 2009. Now EDGE is working to raise money to fund reforestation of a vital corridor for the Horton Plains slender loris. Already, the loris has lost 80% of its habitat.
From the EDGE blog: “This project will not only benefit the endangered loris, but also a host of other species found within the threatened montane forest environment such as the leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), the ‘shaggy bear monkey’ (Trachypithecus vetulus monticola), the endemic Nillu rat (Rattus montanus), and the Sri Lanka spiny mouse (Mus ohiensis) amongst others.”
Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains were recently spared a titanium mine, however now the region faces a new peril: bananas. The Australian firm Indochina Gateway Capital Limited has proposed a banana plantation in the Southern Cardamom Mountains. The plantation would likely destroy an elephant corridor for one of Cambodia’s last wild elephant populations. In addition, pesticides used in the plantation could pollute local waters, threatening nearly-extinct species, such as the royal turtle, and local people.
According to Wildlife Alliance: [we] recently proposed an alternate plantation location to Indochina Gateway as a win-win solution: Move the proposed location of the plantation to the nearby province of Kampot, where the same beneficial conditions exist (i.e. excellent water supply and good soil). Beyond that our proposed plantation area is actually closer to a harbor and labor sources, and it is located in truly degraded forest inside a low priority ecosystem.
(05/11/2011) Suwanna Gauntlett has dedicated her life to protecting rainforests and wildlife in some of the world’s most hostile and rugged environments and has set the trend of a new generation of direct action conservationists. She has designed, implemented, and supported bold, front-line conservation programs to save endangered wildlife populations from the brink of extinction, including saving the Amur Tiger (also known as the Siberian Tiger) from extinction in the 1990s in the Russian Far East, when only about 80 individuals remained and reversing the drastic decline of Olive Ridley sea turtles along the coast of Orissa, India in the 1990s, when annual nestings had declined from 600,000 to a mere 8,130. When she first arrived in Cambodia in the late 1990s, its forests were silent. ‘You couldn’t hear any birds, you couldn’t hear any wildlife and you could hardly see any signs of wildlife because of the destruction,’ Gauntlett said. Wildlife was being sold everywhere, in restaurants, on the street, and even her local beauty parlor had a bear.
(05/12/2011) Megafires are likely both worsened by and contributing to global climate change, according to a new United Nations report. In the tropic, deforestation is playing a major role in creating giant, unprecedented fires.
(04/28/2011) The short answer to the question of whether or not on-going floods in the US Midwest and fires in Texas are linked to a warming Earth is: maybe. The long answer, however, is that while it is difficult—some argue impossible—for scientists to link a single extreme weather event to climate change, climate models have long shown that extreme weather events will both intensify and become more frequent as the world continues to heat up. In other words, the probability of such extreme events increases along with global average temperature.
(02/07/2011) Food prices hit a record high in January according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), threatening the world’s poor. Rising 3.4% since December, the FAO stated that prices reached the highest point since the agency began tracking food prices in 1990. Given the complexity of world markets and agriculture, experts have pointed to a number of reasons behind the rise including rising meat and dairy consumption, the commodity boom, fresh water scarcity, soil erosion, biofuels, growing human population, and a warming world that has exacerbated extreme weather events like last year’s heatwave in Russia.
(02/03/2011) In 2005 the Amazon rainforest underwent a massive drought that was labeled a one-in-100 year event. The subsequent die-off of trees from the drought released 5 billion tons of CO2. Just five years later another major drought struck. The 2010 drought, which desiccated entire rivers, may have been even worse according to a new study in Science, adding on-the-ground evidence to fears that climate change may inevitably transform the world’s greatest rainforest.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Green Belt movement, Wangari Maathai, started a tree-planting campaign to create a better world for the impoverished and marginalized people of her native country, Kenya. For such views, she faced threats of assassination, violence, and censorship from the government.
Now 71, Maathai speaks to Krista Tippett, the host of the radio show On Being, about the importance of trees, how ecology and human well-being interact, and where she finds her faith.
(05/26/2011) Tropical forest news last week was dominated by Indonesia and Brazil. Forest clearing has surged over the past year in parts of the Amazon, the Brazilian Government reported. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s President signed a moratorium on cutting some intact forest areas, as part of a landmark billion-dollar deal with international donors. But new research shows that Africa offers some of the greatest opportunities globally for restoring forests.
(05/13/2011) China’s response to large-scale erosion with reforestation is paying off according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). The 10-year program, known as Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP), is working to turn some 37 million acres back into forest or grasslands after farming on steep slopes in the Yangtze and Yellow River basins had made them perilously susceptible to erosion and flooding.
(03/03/2011) In 1991, my nine-year-old daughter Rachel traveled with me to Guatemala where we were struck by the heartbreaking rural poverty and mudslides worsened by widespread deforestation. We vividly remember holding a three-year-old child who was so listless and malnourished he could scarcely lift his arms. The worry and fatigue on his mother’s face and the child’s condition affected us both profoundly, despite Rachel’s relative youth.
(02/28/2011) Spanning the entire continent of Africa, including 11 nations, the Great Green Wall (GGW) is an ambitious plan to halt desertification at the Sahara’s southern fringe by employing the low-tech solution of tree planting. While the Great Green Wall was first proposed in the 1980s, the grand eco-scheme is closer to becoming a reality after being approved at an international summit last week in Germany as reported by the Guardian.
(02/25/2011) The Indian government has approved a bold plan to expand and improve the quality of its forests as a part of the nation’s National Action Plan on Climate Change. The reforestation plan, dubbed the National Mission for a Green India (NMGI), will expand forests by five million hectares (over 12 million acres), while improving forests quality on another five million hectares for $10.14 billion (460 billion rupees).
A German news show (with English subtitles) investigates clearcuts in the Swedish boreal by logging company Stora Enso, which has been certified as sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC has come under heavy fire from a number of small green groups for what they deem as ‘greenwashing’ ecologically destructive practices, however the FSC remains supported by large conservation organizations who argue that problems with certification must be changed from within.
(05/22/2011) Two separate protests against logging companies by local communities have turned violent in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), leaving at least one dead. According to Greenpeace, one of the companies involved in the violence, Sodefor, is sustainably certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Given that the industry in DRC is rife with social conflict and corruption, Greenpeace is advocating that FSC place a moratorium on certifying new industrial-style logging concessions in the central African nation.
(02/20/2011) The African environmental group, GeaSphere, has lodged a complaint with the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) for certifying tree plantations as sustainable that are culling baboons in South Africa, as first reported by FSC-Watch. The primates are trapped with bait and then shot. According to the complaint, “unofficial numbers from reliable sources state that more than 1000 baboons have been shot over the past 2 years” in Mpumalanga Province. Documents record permits given to cull 1,914 baboons in 13 separate plantations, however Philip Owen of GeaSphere says that plantations have refused to release official data on how many baboons have been killed.
(06/02/2010) In the 1980s and 1990s pressure from activist groups led some of the world’s largest forestry products companies and retailers to join forces with environmentalists to form the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a certification standard that aims to reduce the environmental impact of wood and paper production on natural forests. Despite initial skepticism on whether buyers would pay a premium for greener forest products, FSC quickly grew and by 2000 had become a standard in many markets, including Europe and the United States. Companies like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ikea are today strong supporters of the FSC. But the FSC has not been without controversy. In recent years some activists have voiced concern about FSC standards as well as the credibility of auditors that certify timber operations. Among the initiative’s supporters is the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a group best known for its aggressive protest tactics. RAN says engagement with the FSC is better than the alternative: leaving the timber industry to devise its own sustainability standards.
Celebrated since 1992, today is World Oceans Day! As apart of the day’s festivities, conservation organization Oceana is asking people to become Ocean Heroes by pledging to recycle, clean up a local waterway, or eat only sustainable seafood for the summer!
Purple-striped jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Leopard shark in a kelp forest at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Overlooking the ocean at dawn on Bunaken Island in Indonesia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Tufted puffin in Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Mangroves and seagrass in Belize. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Red starfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Rain coming in over beach in Suriname. Photo by: Jeremy Hance..
Moon jellyfish (Aurelia labiata)at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Critically Endangered leatherback sea turtle returning to the sea in Suriname after laying eggs. Photo by: Jeremy Hance..
Islands off Bird’s Head, northern New Guinea . Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Humpback breaching in Alaska. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Green sea anemone at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Overlooking the ocean at sunset on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Brazil recently announced it was going ahead with building the hugely controversial Belo Monte dam, although the construction is set to flood rainforest, change the character of the Xingu River, and displace at least 16,000 people, although transforming the lives of many tens-of-thousands more. Indigenous people along the Xingu have been fighting the dam for decades.
Mongabay.com has been following the Belo Monte dam closely:
(06/03/2011) As an American I know a lot about shame — the U.S. government and American companies have wrought appalling amounts of damage the world over. But as an admirer of Brazil’s recent progress toward an economy that recognizes the contributions of culture and the environment, this week’s decision to move forward on the Belo Monte dam came as a shock. Belo Monte undermines Brazil’s standing as a global leader on the environment. Recent gains in demarcating indigenous lands, reducing deforestation, developing Earth monitoring technologies, and enforcing environmental laws look more tenuous with a project that runs over indigenous rights and the environment.
(05/02/2011) Brazil’s most controversial mega-dam, Belo Monte, which is moving full steam ahead against massive opposition, has received an extra infusion of cash from Vale, a Brazilian-run mining company.
(03/28/2011) Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke out against Brazil’s megadams at the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, which was also attended by former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and film director, James Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the most famous of the controversial dams, the Belo Monte on the Xingu River.
(03/06/2011) A recent injunction against controversial dam, Belo Monte, in Brazil has been overturned, allowing the first phase of construction to go ahead. The ruling by a higher court argued that not all environmental conditions must be met on the dam in order for construction to start.
(03/02/2011) Three indigenous Amazonian leaders spent this week touring Europe to raise awareness about the threat that a number of proposed monster dams pose to their people and the Amazon forest. Culminating in a press conference and protests in London, the international trip hopes to build pressure to stop three current hydroelectric projects, one in Peru, including six dams, and two in Brazil, the Madeira basin industrial complex and the massive Belo Monte dam. The indigenous leaders made the trip with the NGO Rainforest Foundation UK, including support from Amazon Watch, International Rivers, and Rainforest Concern.
(02/27/2011) Construction on Brazil’s planned mega-dam, the Belo Monte, has been ordered suspended by a federal judge, citing unmet environmental and social conditions. Just last month, the hugely controversial dam, was handed a partial license from Brazil’s Environmental Agency (IBAMA). However, the judge, Ronaldo Destêrro, found that the partial license, the first of its kind in Brazil, was granted under pressure from the dam’s contractor, Norte Energia or NESA.
Note: as a news organization, mongabay.com does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue further.
Villagers from Prey Lang forest area rally in Cambodia’s capital against continuing destruction of their forest. Protestors dressed as ‘avatars’ to gain more attention to their plight. Photo courtesy of: Prey Lang Network.
Cambodia’s Prey Lang forest is one of Southeast Asia’s most important rainforests. Much of the forest has never been logged even though as as a lowland rainforest it should have been one of the first to see the axe. It sustains startling biodiversity including popular animals such as tigers and elephants, and provides vital resources to the surrounding communities. Yet, the Prey Lang forest remains unprotected and the forest is being handed over to corporations for clearcutting piece-by-piece. Locals are working to stop the destruction, but they face an uphill battle, including threats to arrest and intimidation for protesting. For Prey Lang to be protected, pressure may need to come from abroad as well as locally.
According to the petition: “Prey Lang is the last large primary forest of its kind on the Indochinese peninsula. Inclusive of seven distinct ecosystems including unique primordial forest, Prey Lang’s biodiversity is exceptionally high, including almost 40 endangered plant and animal species. As a primary watershed, regulating water and sediment flow to the Tonle Sap Basin, and as an important spawning area for fish, Prey Lang is vital for Cambodia’s long-term environmental sustainability and people’s food and water security. With among the highest carbon sequestration values in the region, it is a powerhouse for fighting global warming. About 200,000 people, mostly indigenous Kuy, live around the forest and our dependent on it for their livelihoods and culture.”
(05/31/2011) Two hundred Cambodians rallied in Phnom Penh last week to protest the widespread destruction of one of Southeast Asia’s last intact lowland rainforests, known as Prey Lang. In an effort to gain wider media attention, protestors donned dress and make-up inspired by the James Cameron film, Avatar, which depicts the destruction of a forest and its inhabitants on an alien world. The idea worked as the rally received international attention from Reuters, CNN (i-report), MSNBC, and NPR, among other media outlets.
(03/10/2011) Cambodian villagers fighting to save their forest from rubber companies have been rebuked by the local government. Two days in a row local authorities prevented some 400 Cambodian villagers from protesting at the offices of the Vietnam-based CRCK Company, which the villagers contend are destroying their livelihoods by bulldozing large swaths of primary forests. Authorities said they feared the villagers would have grown violent while protesting.
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