The West African nation of Gabon has become the first on the continent to get paid to protect its rainforests as part of a global strategy to meet climate change challenges, following a deal with Norway announced on Sunday.
Norway, working through the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), will pay US$150 million toward the 10-year agreement. It rewards Gabon – among Africa’s more forward-thinking nations on conservation – for limiting its deforestation and preserving forest carbon sequestration capacities.
“I am very pleased with this results-based partnership,” said Ola Elvestuen, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment. “It properly takes into account Gabon’s special status as a country with high forest cover and low deforestation.”
The agreement will reward both past performance (verified results since 2016 compared to the previous decade from 2005 to 2014) and future results to be paid annually until 2025, CAFI said.
Nearly 90 percent of Gabon is covered with forests, and Elvestuen said she hopes the partnership will help Gabon to maintain 98 percent of it moving forward. That’s critical to protecting biodiversity and forest habitats, as CAFI notes that while Gabon holds just 12 percent of the Congo Basin forests, it is home to about 60 percent of the surviving forest elephants in Africa.
Gabon’s plans also allow it to slash its own emissions by more than 50 percent when compared with 2005, bringing it in line with a new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) commitment.
Gabon is not without its environmental and political challenges, including a 2019 corruption scandal over illegal logging that brought down a former forests minister and ongoing uncertainty over the ability of ailing President Ali Bongo to effectively lead. Yet it’s blazing the trail on preservation, improving sustainable management of its timber industry and establishing 13 protected national parks.
“We have to raise the value of the Gabonese rainforests in order to ensure that conservation and sustainable exploitation can be used as tools to improve the living standards of the Gabonese people,” said new minister Lee White, stressing the balance needed to protect fragile ecosystems.
“Norway’s agreement to double the price of a ton of rainforest carbon dioxide is highly significant and gives us hope that the international community will move towards a realistic price that will provide a real incentive for rainforest countries to follow our example,” he added.
CAFI, established four years ago, includes six African nations and a host of global development agencies and European partners committed to protecting rainforests that cover an area the size of Western Europe. The African forests and peatlands store up to 70 billion tons of carbon, or the equivalent of five to 10 years of global greenhouse gas emissions, and their health is critical to the global community.
The announcement was made ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, which begins this week.