Le Monde-Lee White: “No-one is prepared to pay a fair price to save rainforests”



The Gabonese Minister of Forestry has welcomed Norway’s decision to pay Libreville for its efforts against deforestation and reminded the industrialized countries of the urgent need for action.



Gabon stands to receive up to 150 million dollars (136 million Euros) from Norway between now and 2025 to preserve its forests which cover close to 90% of its territory and make up 10% of Congo Basin forests. The deal was announced Sunday 22 September in New York on the eve of the Climate Summit convened by UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. It is the first financing deal to reward an African country for carbon captured through measures to combat deforestation or preserve natural forests. It will be implemented via the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) which brings together Congo Basin countries with Oslo as the biggest donor.



The June appointment of Lee White to the helm of Gabon’s Ministry of Forestry, Water and the Environment certainly contributed to this decision. The British-born naturalized Gabonese citizen who had previously served as Director of the National Parks National Agency (ANPN) has built a reputation over the last ten years as a pillar of integrity in Gabon’s corruption-riddled conservation sector. His promotion comes in the aftermath of the huge “kevazingogate” scandal named after the precious timber species which was at the center of a trafficking racket run by Chinese loggers in collusion with local civil servants. His predecessor and the vice-president, Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou had been fired in connection with the case which was uncovered by the American NGO, Environmental Investigation Agency.


While he welcomed the partnership with Norway, Lee White called for a debate on the value of rainforests.



What is the significance to Gabon of this deal described as “history-making” by CAFI which is charged with implementing it?


This deal is first of all an acknowledgment of many years of work. Starting in the early 2000s, we have gradually reformed the forestry sector by requiring companies to establish management plans with increasingly longer rotation periods. The ban on exports of non-processed logs (felled tree trunks) has also helped reduce timber production. The next step is making the FSC certification (the Forest Stewardship Council’s certification which is the most stringent standard for sustainable management in the global forest sector) mandatory for all forest concessions by 2022. Over the same time span, we have created thirteen national parks to protect more than 20% of the country’s surface area. Deforestation is virtually inexistent in Gabon.



And yet the recent “kevazingogate” scandal revealed a forestry sector riddled with highly sophisticated corruption networks. How can you assure Norway that you are able to tackle this challenge?



Sanctions have been meted out and while I did not discuss corruption with Norway, we did talk about the tons of carbon we have pledged to capture to help stabilize the climate. We have satellite monitoring systems along with intelligence and security services on the ground which I plan on using. The reformed Criminal Code which came into force last month provides substantially stiffer sentences for environmental crimes, including poaching of protected species such as elephants and trafficking in natural resources. We were lagging behind other countries in the sub-region on that front, but we have since closed that gap. I should add that we signed an agreement on sustainable forest management in early September with the Chinese Environment Ministry which will help us enforce our laws. The Chinese government is well aware of the harm done to its reputation by the actions of some of its companies.





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