Add adaptation to Congo Basin policies, scientists say — here’s how

Scientists offer four step approach to integrating climate change adaptation into forest management policies.
As population growth, logging and other activities such as mining put pressure on tree cover, Central African countries and international donors have strengthened their forest management policies.

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BOGOR, Indonesia — A new study of forest and climate change policy in the Congo Basin finds adaptation to global warming to be missing in Central African policies, and suggests a way to fill this gap.

“Promoting adaptation aims to preserve the environmental goods and services upon which the poor depend for their survival, with a view to ensuring their minimum needs are covered despite climate change,” said CIFOR scientist Denis Sonwa, one of the study’s authors.

The publication, “Adapting the Congo Basin forests management to climate change: Linkages among biodiversity, forest loss, and human well-being,” states that about 30 million people — comprising more than 150 indigenous groups — live in the Congo Basin with “complete reliance” on forest resources for their livelihoods, increasing their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

Yet helping those people adapt to already-evolving climate patterns — and to the impact of those patterns on food production and other vital activities — has not been a priority. This stems in part from a problem of perception: The Central African forest region — the second-largest in the world after the Amazon — has been relatively protected from mass deforestation and can as such appear indestructible.

“In the Congo Basin, there is a false sense of health accorded to the forest due to the appearance of the dense, continuously evergreen vegetation cover,” the authors wrote.

As population growth, logging and other activities such as mining put pressure on tree cover, Central African countries and international donors have strengthened their forest management policies — but those policies remain centered on mitigating the effects of climate change, not adapting to them.

Governments have focused on reducing deforestation and degradation under the REDD+ scheme, and many thought this would help preserve biodiversity and associated livelihoods for local communities, Sonwa said. But adaptation has been left behind, and “the consequences on the resources [that] populations rely on have not been taken into account,” he added.

Adaptation measures can include planting different species to suit new rain and temperature patterns, or altering construction practices to protect homes and businesses from variable weather conditions.


Although the study notes that Central African forest stakeholders are increasingly aware of the need to integrate adaptation in forest management and policies, the authors add that many obstacles hinder the move, including poor data, insufficient capacity in local administrations, and successive wars in the region.

“In the Congo Basin, studying vulnerability to climate change is of more interest to researchers than to policymakers, because the latter often have other immediate priorities such as poverty alleviation and unemployment,” said CIFOR’s Youssoufa Bele, the study’s lead author. Bele added there was also insufficient coordination of adaptation efforts in the region, despite existing regional fora listed in the study, such as the Conference of Ministers in Charge of Forests in Central Africa (COMIFAC).

“That is why we are offering steps to follow for any country wishing to integrate adaptation to climate change into its policy,” Bele said.

The publication details a four-step approach, starting with analyzing existing policy to assess institutional readiness to change, then understanding vulnerability to climate change, and finally adapting and implementing strategies to tackle it.

It can show them that they can integrate adaptation to climate change, and that mitigation is not the only answer

Denis Sonwa

The fourth — and central — step consists in engaging science-policy dialogue and capacity-building. This aims to ensure that research findings are not limited only to dissemination, but to spur greater interaction, discussion and deliberation between researchers and policy makers.

Previous efforts by CIFOR to foster such dialogue under its Congo Basin Forests and Climate Change Adaptation project “allowed policy makers to realize the importance of adaptation to climate change in the region, where the debate on climate change has largely been dominated by REDD+,” Bele said. He cited the process of mainstreaming adaptation to COMIFAC’s master plan and to Cameroon’s forestry law among examples of the impact of science-policy dialogue so far and said it should be developed further.

The authors of the study now hope that policy design will follow their suggested four-step method. “This is intended for all forest management stakeholders in the Congo Basin, from regional forums such as COMIFAC, where mitigation is already being discussed, to the national level where policies are drawn up, and [to] the local level where biodiversity conservationists, the private sector and actors interested in development for the population are active,” Sonwa said.

“It can show them that they can integrate adaptation to climate change, and that mitigation is not the only answer.”

For more information about this research, please contact Denis Sonwa at

This research forms part of the COBAM (Climate Change and Forests in the Congo Basin) project and is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. The research was funded in part by the African Development Bank and the Economic Community of Central African States.

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