New Initiatives in the Congo Basin

October 1, 2009

Congo Basin heads of state and conservation groups celebrate 10 years of success in saving the world’s second largest rainforest.

Leaders of the Congo Basin countries and conservation groups are pressing for more attention, funds, and technical support to save the world’s second largest rainforest and the people who depend on its resources.

The leaders, including heads of state and ministers for natural resources, also agree that the 46 billion metric tons of carbon stored in the forests should be recognized as a valuable asset during global climate change talks in Copenhagen this December.

A Congressional hearing and forum held on September 29 in Washington D.C. celebrated a decade of conservation success since the historic Yaounde Summit, which first brought together leaders from the countries that share the Congo Basin’s rich rainforests. Since 1999, millions of acres have been protected, new initiatives on bushmeat and anti-poaching have been put in place, and sustainable forestry is beginning to take root.

A brief overview of accomplishments include:

  • 34 protected areas, 61 community based natural resource management areas, and 34 extractive resource zones have been zoned for conservation management, covering 126 million acres or more than a third of the Congo Basin forests.
  • More than 11.5 million acres of forest have been certified as sustainably harvested by the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • Over 5,000 local men and women have been trained in conservation, land use planning, and related conservation capacities.
  • Although logging and forest degradation remain serious problems, the overall rate of deforestation in the Congo Basin is estimated to be a relatively low 0.17%—a third of that of Brazil and a tenth of that of Indonesia.
  • Studies of landscapes and wildlife have improved conservation planning, exemplified by a census indicating the existence of 125,000 previously unknown western lowland gorillas in northern Congo.
  • Indicators for the survival of some endangered species are also improving. Despite years of conflict and poaching, the population of mountain gorillas in Virunga, between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, is up 17% over a previous census taken 20 years ago.

“Since 2002, the Congo Basin Forest Partnership has been instrumental to the creation of protected areas and national park networks, and in prioritizing natural resource management in the region. In fact, throughout the Congo Basin we have seen ‘conservation’ become a household word,” said Michael Fay, conservationist and senior explorer for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The investments have paid off handsomely and CBFP can serve as a model to be replicated in other major biomes around the world.”

Despite the success, however, vast challenges—including the bushmeat crisis, illegal logging and mining, and climate change—still face the Congo Basin. Conservationists highlight the urgent need to devise adaptive strategies to cope with the impacts of climate change on this rainforest. As an enormous carbon storehouse, the Congo Basin sequesters an estimated 46 billion metric tons of carbon—more than any other forest except the Amazon. However, since its rates of deforestation are relatively low, the countries of the region fear they may be excluded from climate agreements decided in Copenhagen this December that address deforestation and degradation.

Dr. Frank Hawkins, head of Conservation International’s Africa Program, said “We must ensure that the Copenhagen climate talks provide financial incentives for these nations to keep their forests standing or we will all suffer the consequences."

Conservationists are also emphasizing the link between the resource extraction and the bushmeat trade. Building of roads for industrial extraction of minerals and trees are causing increases in the bushmeat trade, as the roads provide a conduit into forests that were once largely inaccessible to hunters. The bushmeat trade accounts for the majority of wildlife losses in the region.

Read the press release: Congo Basin Heads of State and Conservation Groups Celebrate 10 Years of Success in Saving World’s Second Largest Rainforest

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