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Protecting the forests of the Congo Basin: Synthesis report of studies conducted during the German Facilitation of the CBFP in 2021
Across the world, climate change is becoming visible and part of people’s lived experience. This is particularly true for people exposed to local extreme weather events and whose livelihoods depend directly on land use, but also in places where slow and gradual climate trends are materializing, such as changing precipitation patterns and ecosystem compositions. Despite three decades of international attempts and negotiations to address climate change and degrading ecosystems, the problems of rising greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems remain unabated. In contrast, climate change is becoming a major driver of further human-induced change; for example, the increasing intensity and extent of forest fires across the globe significantly adds to direct human emissions and underlines the urgency for effective measures.
The need for, and co-benefits of, effectively protecting terrestrial carbon pools and making use of their function as carbon sinks is widely recognized. Supported by ambitious international and national policy targets and initiatives, many institutions from academia, civil society, governments, development cooperation and the private sector have developed approaches and are working towards achieving the agreed targets related to the protection of forests.
The Congo Basin, with its total forest cover of approximately 268 Mio. ha (in 2010, de Wasseige et al. 2012), harbors more than 90% of Africa’s dense forests, at the beginning of this century representing 17% of the primary forest area worldwide (Turubanova et al. 2018). Thus, the forests of the Congo Basin represent the world’s second largest remaining tropical forest cover.
This “green lung” still has many large intact forest areas that provide vital ecosystem services – locally as well as globally. In contrast to other tropical forests and countries, especially in Latin America or Southeast Asia, the processes leading to forest frontiers and large-scale conversion according to the forest transition curve are still at a rather early stage. Or put more simply: there is still much to protect for the benefit of humans across the globe. However, the pressures are increasing, and the large intact forest areas of the Congo Basin are in urgent need of protection. Multiple pressures put these forests and the ecosystem services they provide locally and globally at risk.
The Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) was launched in 2002 and currently consists of 121 partner institutions. These include ten member countries of the Economic Commission of Central Africa (ECCAS) and Central African Forestry Commission (COMIFAC), and more than 100 affiliated partners. Partners include donor countries, civil society organizations and international NGOs, multilateral organizations, academic and training institutions, and private sector actors.
In accordance with the COMIFAC Convergence Plan and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the partners share the vision of protecting these unique forest ecosystems and thereby contribute significantly to the conservation of biodiversity, sustainable management, the fight against climate change and poverty reduction in the Central African member countries.
With this broad and inclusive composition, the CBPF provides a comprehensive and multi-faceted network and an international platform for promoting the protection and sustainable management of the Congo Basin´s forests. This is a widely recognized prerequisite and contribution to simultaneously address global climate change and biodiversity loss, while fostering poverty reduction and sustainable economic development in the region – in line with the COMIFAC Convergence Plan and the SDGs.
The Government of Germany has a long history of providing substantive technical and financial support to forest protection and sustainable use in general, and specifically to the countries of the Congo Basin. In line with these strong and lasting relationships, Germany has assumed responsibility for the facilitation of the CBFP in the current term. In December 2019, the facilitation was handed over from the Kingdom of Belgium, represented by Minister of State François-Xavier De Donnea, to the Federal Republic of Germany, represented by the new CBFP Facilitator Dr. Christian Ruck. On 14 February 2020, Dr. Gerd Müller – German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) – officially launched the German Facilitation in the presence of representatives from COMIFAC member countries and commenced the work of the German Facilitation for the period 2020–2021.
The focus of the German Facilitation of the CBFP in 2020 and 2021 was to use the global momentum for protecting forests in the context of addressing climate change and loss of biodiversity. Through intensive coordination efforts, one aim was to facilitate a joint declaration to be presented at the two key conferences scheduled for the end of 2021: the CBD COP 15 for the new strategic plan and post-2020 global biodiversity framework in Kunming / China, and UNFCCC COP 26 in Glasgow / United Kingdom.
In addition to this effort at the global policy level, the facilitation commissioned six thematic studies related to specific opportunities and challenges for the forests of the Congo Basin and the people who depend directly on the products, biodiversity and ecosystem services the forests provide. The six studies and a policy brief for each study were prepared between December 2020 and August 2021. They focus on the following topics:
REDD+ by Dr. Johannes Pirker (UNIQUE forestry and land use GmbH) and Dr. Sophia Carodenuto, University of Victoria)
China by Mr. Ren Peng and Ms. Jingwei Zhang (Global Environment Institute)
Value Chains by Dr. Romain Pirard (ONF-International)
Land Use Planning by James Acworth and Pascal Douard
Transhumance by Mr. Leonard Usongo and Dr. Moussa Baschirou
Ecotourism by Mr. Paul Telfer
The COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions posed unexpected challenges to the German Facilitation and its planned contributions – conferences were postponed, physical meetings had to be canceled, and planned workshops and field visits to gather on-the-ground insights were only possible to a very limited extent. However, despite these difficulties and a greater need than ever to protect the remaining intact forests, the thematic inputs for the declaration and further work have been concluded successfully.
All studies and policy briefs will be made available through the CBFP. The objective of this study is to summarize the key findings and recommendations, and to synthesize a bigger picture on the needs and progress to protect the Congo Basin forests. It sheds light on shortcomings, needs and entry points for achieving the described objectives.
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