One Forest Summit: after the roadmap, the hardest part remains

"The world has come to realize that without the forest, the climate and biodiversity are at risk

One Forest Summit: after the roadmap, the hardest part remains

"The world has come to realize that without the forest, the climate and biodiversity are at risk. Now everyone has to do their part. And to keep its commitments […] It is time for action”. It is with this tweet that Ali Bongo Ondimba closed the One Forest Summit on March 2, 2023. For two days, more than twenty countries representing the world's major forest basins, members of the scientific community, local populations and many business leaders have gathered in Libreville, the Gabonese capital, around the same objective: the safeguarding of tropical forests, including those of the Congo Basin.

After 48 hours of work jointly managed by Emmanuel Macron and the Gabonese President, the participants delivered their conclusions and described their projects in the Libreville Plan. First measure and key decision of the document? The creation of a fund of 100 million euros. Funded half by France and to the tune of 20 and 30 million euros by the Walton Foundation and Conservation International, this envelope will be used to finance a mechanism for remunerating exemplary countries in the conservation of forests, and the safeguarding of their vital stocks. carbon and biodiversity. And this, via "biodiversity certificates", which can be exchanged with sovereign States or with the private sector.

This new system will have to respond to the "failing model" of the carbon market which has "drift in recent years on a voluntary market" and "depreciated the price of carbon" with "greenwashing phenomena", said Emmanuel Macron. "The big risk, if we stop there, is that a distrust of carbon credits sets in. An ambition in line with that defended by the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, Elizabeth Mrema, during the event. “To halt biodiversity loss, limit climate change and achieve land degradation neutrality, these financial flows […] must urgently double by 2025, and triple by 2030,” said she assured.

For several years, Gabon has played a leading role in green finance. In January 2023, Libreville, through its Minister in charge of Forests, Lee White, declared that it was preparing to put 90 million tonnes of carbon credits on the market. And in June 2021, it became the first country to be paid for protecting its forests, receiving $17 million from a Norwegian-backed fund, the Central African Forest Initiative. Initiative,Cafi), the first installment of a $150 million grant. The payment was made under a program called REDD (Reducing Emissions and Forest Degradation).

A significant source of income for Gabon, which is preparing for the post-oil era, since its territory sequesters the equivalent of 140 million tonnes of carbon annually, while it only emits 35,000, recalls an article in Le Nouveau Gabon. With a difference of more than 139.9 million tonnes of carbon each year, "the country can thus sell its carbon credit to the companies that need it".

If the participants at the summit are striving in the Libreville Plan to improve the remuneration of States that own tropical forests, it is because the system of financing via carbon credits – obtained when a company that impacts biodiversity or an area nature carries nature protection projects to compensate for its industrial activities - is controversial. While for some this method aims to offset a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions, for others it boils down to a "right to pollute". For Simon Councell, an independent forestry researcher and former director of the NGO Rainforest in the United Kingdom, this system "does very little to benefit the climate because, in fact, the more a company acquires carbon credits, the more it pollutes, he complains. From my point of view, it is simply an artificial tool that allows private companies and states, including Gabon, to position themselves as defenders of the planet”.

Anne Raimat, director of the NGO Climate Chance and present at the One Forest Summit, temporizes. "You don't have to completely brush this mechanism aside," she says. “If companies play the game, and respect the triptych “avoid/reduce/compensate”, then we can have positive results. Of course, all this must be controlled. We need reliable impact studies, and be able to check whether the projects really have an effect on local development and the conservation of biodiversity. We, as NGOs, remain lucid about the work that remains to be done, particularly for the private sector. But we refuse to practice the policy of the empty chair. Hence our presence in Gabon. »

Another major measure taken by the Libreville Plan, the initiative of business leaders present at the summit for "the creation of 10 million jobs in activities related to sustainable forest management by 2030". "The Libreville plan is proactive and puts the local populations who live around the forests at the heart of all these actions", it is specified. A realization of one of the main objectives presented at the beginning of the event, namely "the development of more sustainable sectors for products sold at higher prices on international markets and which will benefit local populations".

A policy defended there also by the Gabonese government, which has been developing for more than a decade the exploitation, stamped "sustainable", of its wood. In February 2022, the French group Rougier announced the sale in Europe of Gabonese Okoumé plywood certified FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). The label guarantees ecological and responsible practices in the management of forests, as well as the entire supply chain. "Thanks to this certification, the European market has the guarantee that the products marketed come from a forest and a supply chain that are managed responsibly", explains Le Nouveau Gabon. In eastern Gabon, in Bambidie, logging has been carried out since 2008 by Precious Woods - CEB (Compagnie équatoriale des bois), with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification. This certification guarantees that the wood comes from legal logging, with sustainable management.

After green financing, the exploitation of the forest via sustainable sectors is the other means assumed by Libreville – the leading producer of CEMAC ahead of Cameroon – to benefit from its natural resources while protecting them. According to Marthe Mapangou, from the Gabonese Ministry of the Environment, "combining logging and sustainable development is possible", she also assures in an interview with the French Agency for Development (AFD).

But for the method to work, “we also need serious data, warns Anne Raimat. Before monetizing its forest and further developing these exploitation sectors, Gabon must really invest in robust certification audit methods, which will make these processes virtuous”. Simon Councell shares the same fears. “This idea has been developed for a long time by Gabon's neighbors, such as Cameroon or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Studies have shown positive results during the first years of operation. On the other hand, we realized that these methods were not applicable in the long term: 50 years later, we see a severe drying up of the forests and damage to its biodiversity which greatly penalizes the peoples who live there, regrettably. -he. Because even if a company harvests wood in a sustainable way, it must, in order to work well, build roads, bring in workers, bring trucks through... All of this inevitably has harmful consequences on the biodiversity of the territory and on living conditions. local populations. »

Moreover, when a company exploits wood, "their choice is generally for a very specific species of tree", explains Simon Counsell. But in Gabon, the species are so numerous on the same plot that it is necessary to exploit a very large part of the forest to collect a sufficient quantity of the chosen wood. And that exploitation is then done to the detriment of others.”

This pollution has serious consequences on the biodiversity of the region's forests, but also on its inhabitants. "I was a fisherman, I had to stop because the fishing activity is no longer profitable", laments Lydie Rebela on the images. I have children, I have grandsons. What are we going to leave them as a legacy? ".