As the world races to mitigate global warming, agricultural expansion generally characterized by the practice of slash and burn has been identified as the topmost driver of deforestation that leads to carbon emission in the world’s largest carbon sink. In a new report titled Congo Basin Forests – State of the Forests 2021 produced by the Central Africa Forest Observatory (OFAC), experts say population growth puts fresh pressure on the forests of Central Africa and consequently reduce carbon stock as thousands of arrival of agrarian households into forest areas leads to clearing to establish farmlands. The experts also listed logging, territorial development, land use, governance and need for energy as other factors driving deforestation.
Conscious of the stakes and the potentials of the forests of Central Africa in sequestering large amounts of carbon, the researchers note that all countries of the subregion have been engaged in the UN-backed REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) process from the onset. The Central African countries however differ in their commitment despite their shared enthusiasm to curb emissions linked to deforestation and degradation. The countries have also developed projects of different content and scale to increase greenhouse gas absorption.
According to the researchers, member states of the Central African Forests Commission (COMIFAC) designed and deployed a holistic and integrated approach in the implementation of the REDD+ process. This strategic option is a blend of crosscutting programs and integrated programs sector by sector. Moreover, this approach is complemented by each country’s consideration of land development and land management as strategic transversal axis indispensable to the success of the REDD+ mechanism.
One of the contributors of the report, Hassan Assani, who is National REDD+ Coordinator in DR Congo, says Central African countries aim to put in place a veritable forest governance policy in order to better manage, in terms of time and space, human activities likely to have an impact on forests.
“These processes of national forest zoning and land development both permit to clarify the uses of different allocations as well as organize and spatialize the forest domain, facilitating the operationalization of the National Forest Monitoring System (NFMS) essential for monitoring REDD+ activities,” Assani said. He added that such an approach makes it possible to distinguish intact forest landscapes from degraded areas or areas likely to experience more anthropogenic pressures due to their development-given status.
To implement the REDD+ process effectively, the researchers posit that policy reforms at national levels should be carried out across different sectors because of the crosscutting nature of the mechanism. They cite the land sector as the most crucial which need reforms in terms of access and use, considering that all other sectors are dependent on it.
In a bid to put in place an institutional framework suitable for the implementation of the REDD+ process, the researchers note that Congo initiated a land sector reform in 2012, but financial constraints delayed the project until 2014 when the National Commission for Land Reform (CONAREF) was launched. In 2016, the reform process got US$ 7 million in funding thanks to a letter of intent signed with Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI).
Nevertheless, even before the reforms, the findings show that since 2008, several Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) projects have been registered or are being registered – in the case of the most recent – in COMIFAC member states with the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) or other carbon standards such as Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), Gold Standard or Plan Vivo. In addition, there are projects for the production and distribution of energy-efficient cook stoves to households so as to reduce their consumption of firewood, fuelwood needs and ultimately deforestation and the degradation of forests. Such projects are principally registered with the Gold Standard and can be found mainly in Rwanda and Cameroon, but also in DR Congo, Burundi and Congo. About 2,500,000 carbon credits have been issued so far under these projects, according to the report.
The report highlights the emission reduction program in Congo, in the country’s two most densely wooded administrative units – Sangha and Likouala. This program approved in 2018 by members of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) is expected to reduce 13,093,084 teCO2 between 2020 and 2024. A majority of the estimated emission reduction is expected to result from the implementation of reduced-impact logging practices in forest concessions; an approach which shows that is possible to reduce the impact of logging without reducing timber production.
The Maï-Ndombe emission reduction program launched in 2009 in DR Congo is also presented in the report as a worthwhile REDD+ process. While anticipating for the third phase of the REDD+ process (payment for results), the government of DR Congo, with the support of the World Bank, has been preparing since 2012 the design of the Maï-Ndombe Emission Reduction Program Document. The Maï-Ndombe Emission Reduction Program was officially integrated into the FCPF portfolio in November 2016 and an Emission Reductions Purchase Agreement (ERPA) was signed between the World Bank and DR Congo in September 2018.
Despite the efforts in emission reduction, with about 15 pilot projects, there have been challenges that have served as lessons to countries of Central Africa.
Since agricultural expansion is the main driver of deforestation, the researchers have advanced that countries of Central African must pursue new agricultural practices that will spare the forests – practices informed by agricultural policies that take into account the climate change dimension. However, few Central African countries have updated their agricultural policies so far.
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