Advancing Sustainability in China´s Engagement in the Congo Basin - CBFP

An Assessment of China’s Role and Potential Collaboration Opportunities in Forest-Related Trade and Development Cooperation

 

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Report: Advancing Sustainability in China´s Engagement in the Congo Basin

 

Policy Brief: Advancing sustainable forest-related trade and cooperation between China, Congo Basin countries, and the international market

The Congo Basin forests have global significance as they contribute to maintaining biodiversity and mediating climate change at a global scale. At the same time, the economic development of the Congo Basin countries and the livelihoods of people living in the region rely on important forest resources, ranging from timber and charcoal to forest plants and animals. The comparatively high ecological integrity of the Congo Basin forests is recently facing increasing threats from different sources such as the use of forest resources and land for other land uses and activities of economic growth, which often do not consider sustainability standards in planning and management. As in many other regions, commercial exploitation of forests for international timber trade and increasing investments in forest-sensible land-use sectors are among the prominent causes of forest degradation in the Congo Basin.

 

In addition to the countries located in the Congo Basin, international partners including China, several European states and other actors with economic ties to the Congo Basin countries also have important roles to play in the conservation and sustainable development of the forests. Of note, the Congo Basin´s economic relations with China, though having emerged more recently than those with the Western hemisphere, are growing at a fast pace. This is particularly the case in the forest and infrastructure construction sectors – both of which have a potentially high impact on forests. Timber sourced from the Congo Basin countries represents a large and growing proportion of China’s import of African timber. The value of Chinese foreign direct investment stock and flow into the Congo Basin also shows an upward trend, which is growing faster than Chinese investments in other African regions.

 

Over the last 10 to 15 years, China has increasingly taken note of the potential environmental and forest impacts of its overseas trade, investment and other economic activities. However, timber trade between China and Africa has so far not met the requirements of international legality and sustainability standards. Furthermore, China is highly involved in investment and construction of infrastructure projects that may have caused forest conversion due to a lack of comprehensive, effective management measures and a lack of environmental impact analyses. China has recently taken action in promulgating a series of policies, guidelines, and initiatives as well as bi- and multilateral mechanisms to foster more sustainable overseas economic co-operation. These efforts are also being applied in the Congo Basin countries. However, despite such initiatives, challenges still remain; they include a lack of effective and mandatory implementation procedures for policies and guidelines on sustainable management of forest concessions, and insufficient market incentives for timber trade companies to move towards solely importing legal timber with certification. Therefore, the negative environmental impacts on forest resources of Chinese trade and economic activities have not yet been fully addressed and remain a concern for the forest ecosystems of the Congo Basin.

 

Through a desk-based literature review and an interview series with individuals and organizations working on sustainable forest development in the Congo Basin, this study finds that Congo Basin countries and other international partners have been and remain willing to engage more intensively with Chinese stakeholders, including government, the private sector, research institutions and non-profit organizations, in order to jointly address the challenge of sustainable forest development in the region. Having said that, contact opportunities and cooperation structures are often lacking on the Chinese side. Looking ahead, a whole supply chain approach with trilateral cooperation between China, the Congo Basin, the EU and other international partners has been identified as a possible way forward. Stakeholders along the global timber trade supply chain could support each other in overcoming constraints of sustainable value chain management and proactively exchange best practice experiences. Joint and coordinated efforts in technical and financial assistance should also be pursued in order to achieve more sustainable international timber trade and investment, thus boasting the sustainable use and conservation of forests.

 

To leverage influence, trilateral cooperation could make use of existing tools and regulations such as the EU Timber Regulation and China’s revised Forest Law of 2020; legality verification systems like the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (EU FLEGT) and the Chinese Timber Legality Verification System (CTLVS); exchange programs such as the Global Green Supply Chain (GGSC); or financial incentives like the Legacy Landscape Fund initiated by Germany and a global biodiversity conservation fund to be initiated by China. Another potentially useful policy to be further explored is the ecological protection redline (EPRL) concept, which is deployed in China’s land use planning. Debt-for-nature swaps that have been applied elsewhere around the globe but not yet between China and Africa also provide a possible inlet. In-depth discussions and negotiations about the potential trilateral cooperation and application of the above-mentioned tools could take place at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), as well as within the framework of international conventions such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

 

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