Aspiring “green superpower” Gabon brought its forest preservation efforts to the world stage at COP 26 with a potential lesson or two for British Columbia, where environmentalists say the premier is dragging his feet on protecting the province’s old-growth forests.
“The doors to the future are closing,” Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba told COP delegates earlier this week, ahead of endorsing the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use.
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“[The] IPCC tells us there is no valuable future without the tropical rainforests. This is my hope that Glasgow will mark a turning point,” Ondimba said.
The leader of the Central African nation invited world leaders to invest responsibly in Gabon’s forests and urged them to stand by the country in its “efforts to protect and understand our forest’s ecosystem.”
In doing so, Gabon’s fellow signatories to the declaration could learn a great deal from the self-described “green superpower” about how to protect their own forests, writes the Globe and Mail.
With forests covering nearly 90% of its territory and absorbing 100 million tonnes more CO2 than the country emits, the country has been referred to as the “lungs of Africa.”
It is also, quite literally, a “rainmaker,” adds the Globe, noting that “combined with its neighbours in the Congo Basin, its forests generate more than half of Africa’s rainfall.”
Affirming his country’s abundance of natural riches, Gabon Environment Minister Lee White told Al Jazeera that, unlike elsewhere in Africa, “we’re not going to die of thirst in Gabon because of climate change. We’re not going to die of hunger.” But “in some ways, we have a moral obligation to maintain these forests because the forests of Gabon and the Congo provide rainfall to the Sahel,” he added, referring to the semi-arid region that belts across the top of the continent.
Determined to fight back against the deforestation that is currently decimating the forests of its neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon banned the export of raw logs in 2010, forcing logging companies to sell to domestic buyers who make plywood or furniture. Now, it hopes to further protect its forests with a management plan that does permit rainforest logging, but in a manner that is “highly selective, relatively slow, carefully documented, independently certified and fully traceable,” sufficient to be approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Today, just three logging companies in Gabon are FSC certified, with corruption a major problem. While Gabon is oil-rich, monies that might otherwise go to government programs frequently go astray.
The ban on raw log exports has been a clear winner, however, providing “10 times as many jobs and 10 times as much economic value” as exports, White said. Making clear that his country has no time for earlier “fortress” models of forest protection which trampled the rights and economic well-being of forest dwellers, White stressed that “if we don’t create value for the forests, we can’t save the forests.”
Figuring out how to systematically and transparently keep track of the trees it harvests will be crucial. On the basis of data collected to date, the country received US$17 million from Norway in June under the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI). Under this initiative, Gabon should see another $133 million over the next 10 years for reducing its CO2 emissions from forest loss and land degradation, the Globe reports.
But Rainforest Foundation UK cites data “showing that forest losses increased in the period when the government’s numbers showed the opposite.”
Also in Gabon’s future as a “green superpower”: carbon credits. The country has introducing legislation to allow for a national system of carbon-credit trading in September, the first step towards entering the global market.
Asked by Al Jazeera to elaborate on Gabon’s plans “toput $5 billion of carbon credits on the market in the coming weeks,” White said a carbon market would mean sustainable investment in forests that would in turn create jobs and livelihoods for the Gabonese people. He said a similar approach would open a door for wealthy countries to “potentially fund countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo to shift their path.”
Meanwhile, back in Canada—which has likewise signed up to try to protect and regenerate the world’s forests—the B.C. government’s old growth technical advisory panel has “found that 2.6 million hectares of old growth forest are at high risk of irreversible diversity loss and must be immediately deferred from logging,” reports Stand.earth. “In response, the provincial government announced only a halt on B.C. timber sales auctions in areas overlapping with identified priority areas (not including cutblocks already auctioned) and promised additional deferrals at an unspecified future date.”
Condemning the province’s refusal to proceed with immediate deferral, and citing an open letter it co-authored earlier this year with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Stand links the province’s drive “to commercialize all old-growth forests” with its equally persistent drive to “foster an economic dependence on old-growth logging in First Nations communities.”
The group says a provincial consultation process held “without the requisite funding for sustainable economic alternatives maintains the status quo of old-growth logging while removing Indigenous self-determination, decision making and well-being in conservation and stewardship.”
Those objections cast doubt on the John Horgan government’s assertion, reported in the Globe and Mail, that it wishes to “suspend logging in one-third of its rare, old-growth forests that are considered at a very high risk of irreversible biodiversity loss, but first needs to sign individual agreements with the province’s 204 First Nations.”
Speaking at a news conference, Forest Minister Katrine Conroy invoked the province’s legal obligation to uphold the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous communities before resource development can occur on their lands.
She did not address the question of just how free that consent can be when one’s economic choices have been constrained.
Illustrating how complex the matter of deferrals will be, the Globe reports that the Huu-ay-aht Nation, whose territories include the Fairy Creek watershed, “has already declared that it will not agree to the proposed deferrals in its territories until it completes its two-year-long resource-management planning process.”
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