8th Dec 2023


COP26 and the Congo rainforest - a 'Made in Europe' problem

  • Sources close to the negotiations fear the DR Congo's decision to lift the logging moratorium will be allowed to stand in the European group's haste to ready a COP26 announcement (Photo: Flickr/Corinne Staley)
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COP26, now underway in Glasgow, will drastically shape our response to the climate crisis. The UN climate summit will also determine the future of the world's second largest rainforest, the Congo Basin.

After it was discovered that the Amazon no longer absorbs carbon, the Congo rainforest – soaking up some 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – is arguably one of our last lines of defence against climate change.

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  • Camilla Barungi: 'Whilst taking up the role of 'the white saviour' with its grand funding initiatives, the West is transferring its carbon footprint onto the poorest nations' (Photo: Wikimedia)

At COP26, a coalition of world leaders is expected to reveal a landmark initiative to curb tropical deforestation. Earlier this week, leaked documents revealed a $1.5bn [€1.29bn] plan supported by the UK and EU to protect the Congo Basin.

However, if not carefully considered, these funds could end up facilitating the demolition of the Congo rainforest. Recently, the DRC – where roughly 60 percent of the Congo Basin lies – announced its plan to lift a two-decades-old ban on new industrial logging concessions.

The document leak, revealed by the Independent, suggests that sources close to the negotiations fear the DRC's decision to lift the logging moratorium will be allowed to stand in the European group's haste to ready a COP26 announcement.

Previously, Greenpeace Africa expressed anger over the DRC's decision stating that it would simply open up a new lucrative highway for foreign companies to trash the rainforest the DRC needs is a blueprint for permanent protection of the forest.

Even before the DRC's announcement to eradicate the moratorium, the fate of the Congo rainforest was hanging in the balance. Between 2012 and 2019, deforestation has more than doubled. Researchers fear that if the trend continues, there will be no primary Congo rainforest left by 2100.

The moratorium was aimed to combat the corruption in the logging industry. Lifting it will allow the DRC government to award new contracts to industrial companies – potentially opening up more than half of the primary forest to logging.

Sadly, it appears the world leaders are more interested in making a lavish funding announcement at COP26 than fixing a half-done deal which could have a devastating environmental impact on the world's largest forest carbon sink.

Problem 'Made in Europe'

Ironically, many of the logging companies clearing the Congo Basin are European.

Foreign investors have shamelessly exploited rich natural resources of the African continent at the expense of the environment.

Illegal timber from the Congo Basin is being transported around the world, including the EU member states, the US and China.

While the EU has banned importing illegal timber, sanctions issued across Europe have been minimal, often leaving high-risk timber to slip through the net. That said, if illegal timber enters China, it will be turned into finished consumer goods and then resold on the global market.

Governments in Central Africa have ceded roughly a quarter of the Congo rainforest to logging companies, primarily European and Chinese. Of these 50 million hectares, only 5.4 million hectares – less than 11 percent – are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

This makes Africa the biggest victim of COP26 double standards: whilst taking up the role of 'the white saviour' with its grand funding initiatives, the West is transferring its carbon footprint onto the poorest nations. According to NGO Oxfam, the richest one percent of the world's population are responsible for over double the emissions of the poorest half of humanity.

Africa desperately needs the Western funds – but to build a more prosperous future with the right tools, not because the West is trying to divert its own complicity in deforestation on African soil. While there are no easy answers, certifications for forest risk commodities – and most importantly their enforcement – provides a model to follow.

An example comes from southeast Asia: in Malaysia, the government has established a legally-binding Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil Certification (MSPO). The reduced deforestation levels for four consecutive years are attributable to successful enforcement, with the Malaysian government issuing sanctions for non-compliance.

If Europe wishes to continue using consumer goods from forest risk commodities like palm oil or timber, it's crucial that these certifications are supported, and the Western demand is not causing deforestation on the other side of the globe.

Previously, only 11.5 percent of international funds for nature protection and sustainable forest management in tropical regions have gone to the Congo Basin. We must urgently protect 'the lungs of Africa'. Yet Western nations will only succeed in this if they are motivated by genuine environmental concerns.

There are no quick fixes. Short -sighted attempts to pour billions into saving the world's rainforest are likely to backfire without a government's will to enforce a legal framework to curb illegal logging.

People of colour are the most vulnerable to climate change – yet the least represented in mainstream media. If African voices keep being silenced, there won't be environmental justice.

Initiatives to save the Congo Basin are hugely important, but without genuine dialogue or understanding of potential repercussions, they are just for the show.

Author bio

Camilla Barungi is an advisor to the Ugandan government, consultant to the United Nations, editor-in-chief of Jaro4ME, and model.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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