Monday, May 02, 2016

Democratic Republic of Congo Signs Deal to Protect Rain Forest
John Aglionby
East Africa correspondent

A general view taken on November 5, 2013 shows forest in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo North Kivu region, which borders with Rwanda, and mountains on the Rwandan side of the border in an area that was one of the M23 rebels' last stands. Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo's powder-keg east surrendered on November 5 after a crushing UN-backed offensive ended their 18-month insurgency in a region that has seen some of Africa's deadliest conflicts. Soldiers and UN peacekeepers sifted on November 6 through the materiel the rebels left behind -- including olive-green rockets allegedly used by the Rwandan military. AFP PHOTO / Junior D. Kannah / AFP PHOTO / Junior D. Kannah©AFP

The DRC has 155m hectares of forest, an area slightly bigger than the UK, Ireland, France and Spain combined.

The Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday signed a landmark $200m deal with donors to help the African nation protect the world’s second-largest rainforest, implement sustainable development policies and reduce carbon emissions.

If all goes well over the next four years in what is the largest such integrated environmental-development initiative in Africa, Kinshasa can eventually expect to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in credits from its reduced emissions. However, donors admit success cannot be taken for granted in one of the region’s most unstable countries.

The DRC has 155m hectares of forest, an area slightly bigger than the UK, Ireland, France and Spain combined. By global standards its deforestation rate is considered relatively low but the government admits it is starting to accelerate because of shifting cultivation, a reliance on wood for fuel, and illegal logging.

Norway has signed similar bilateral agreements with Brazil and Indonesia, the two other largest forested countries, and Liberia. The letter of intent signed on Friday is the first under the Central African Forest Initiative, which was launched last year. The donors are Norway, France, the UK, Germany and the European Union while the African nations in the scheme also include the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of Congo.

Oslo is providing $190m of the financing and the other partners the rest.

Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s minister of climate and environment, said that addressing deforestation was “a quarter of the solution” to tackling global climate change.

“We’re not naive about the challenges in the complex dynamics of the DRC, and the economic and political drivers of deforestation,” he told the Financial Times. “But not trying to do anything about the second-biggest rainforest is not a responsible course of action.”

Political tension is high in the DRC, where Joseph Kabila, president, is due to step down later this year. However, he has yet to announce his intentions and the opposition believes he is trying to extend his tenure in power by delaying the polls.

There is also a 20,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in the east of the country fighting various armed groups, including M23, the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda.

Corruption is considered endemic, with the country ranked 147th out of 165 nations in Transparency International’s latest global corruption perception index.

The DRC will use the funding to reduce slash-and-burn farming among the 60 per cent of the 70m population that live in forests, develop new agriculture practices, introduce more efficient and less wood-dependent energy generation methods, and educate communities about protecting the environment.

There will be regular monitoring by international agencies and a full review at the end of 2018, at which point the funding could be cancelled if there is deemed inadequate progress. Norway has withheld much of the money promised to Indonesia because of poor implementation by Jakarta.

Felicien Kahenga, a senior official at the DRC’s ministry of finance, recognised the challenges but said he was confident of success. “We are ready. It’s been a process since 2009 working towards this and we have our policy framework in place,” he said, citing a 12.3m-hectare World Bank-co-ordinated pilot project in Mai-Ndombe in the western region of the country.

Priya Gajraj, the DRC country director of the UN Development Programme, said the holistic nature of the agreement “will really help the country generate transformational change in key economic sectors”. She added: “It not only addresses deforestation but wider sustainable development and land use management.”

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