Norway’s plans to save the rainforests in the Congo are coming under scrutiny in the Norwegian media.
This post follows on from the recent anonymous contribution to REDD-Monitor, “Norway’s latest forest and climate shambles: the Central African Forest Initiative”. It is based on Google translations of a recent article in Norwegian newspaper Dagladet and the response from Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment.
Norway has agreed to finance the preservation of DRC’s forests through the Central African Forest Initiative. In December 2016, Norway transferred US$45 million to CAFI.
Lies and illegal logging
In August 2016, Norway’s environment minister Vidar Helgesen travelled to Kinshasa, where he met Robert Bopolo Mbongeza, who was at the time the Democratic Republic of Congo’s minister of environment.
DRC’s previous environment minister sold three illegal logging concessions to foreign companies. Bopolo assured Helgesen that the contracts were annulled. During the meeting, Bopolo promised he would clean up corruption in DRC’s logging sector.
But Bopolo’s promises were lies. Only three weeks after meeting Helgesen, Bopolo issued more illegal logging concessions covering an area of 4,000 square kilometres.
Cutting the trees to save the forests
One of the goals behind CAFI is to build a law abiding, commercial timber industry in the country.
On 19 February 2017, Dagbladet quoted Lars Løvold, head of Rainforest Foundation Norway as saying that,
The idea to save rainforests through facilitating industrial logging is paradoxical. The danger is great that Norwegian money for rainforest conservation will lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and forest destruction in the Congo. Such are conditions in the Congo, with large-scale corruption and weak public institutions, the risk is imminent that this is the result.
Before Helgesen went to DRC in August 2016, Løvold wrote to Helgesen warning him of the danger that the “The Norwegian support programme in the DRC could lead to increased deforestation and violation of the rights of indigenous peoples.”
Løvold’s letter points out the need to implement a series of measures, particularly addressing the issue of local communities’ land rights. Løvold suggested that until such measures are in place, Norway should withhold further funding of the Carbon Fund, under the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.
Helgesen’s department told Dagbladet that Bopolo’s illegal concessions would be cancelled.
Helgesen told Dagbladet that he thinks it’s a good idea to try to protect DRC’s forests by supporting commercial logging,
if logging is actually run in a gentle manner, under which selected individual trees are harvested, and operates in a manner that benefits the local population and the nation as a whole. The option to allow a careful logging is not that these forests remain untouched forever. These forests are under rapidly increasing pressure from an expanding agriculture and extensive, illegal and unsustainable logging.
Truls Gulowsen, head of Greenpeace Norway commented to Dagbladet:
Previous attempts have been made., in several countries, to save rainforests through facilitating regulated, commercial logging. It h1as never succeeded. We must ask ourselves whether Norway should provide money to be nice or to achieve something in the important struggle to save the rainforest.
Bopolo did not answer Dagbladet’s email. But on 19 February Bopolo held a press conference in Kinshasa. He swore his innocence and threatened to sue Greenpeace.
He also said he will ensure that international NGOs will not be able to hold press conferences without permission from the relevant ministry.
Norway’s Climate and Environment Ministry has issued a response to the fiasco in DRC. In it, Helgesen explains that,
Norway wants to support forest management that minimises the impacts on the environment and climate and that also helps one of the poorest countries with economic and social development, while helping to keep most of the forests in the Congo Basin remaining.
The decision about financing “sustainable” commercial logging in DRC will not be formally considered until at least May 2017. In the statement Helgesen says,
It is not necessarily the case that the absence of sustainable logging means that these forests are left in peace. The absence of economic activity can on the contrary lead to increased pressure on the forest from illegal operators and from operators wishing to deforest for agricultural purposes.
But there are many examples, especially in the DRC, where logging companies have broken laws and damaged the environment and communities, and we therefore share the concerns [of Greenpeace and Rainforest Foundation].
To say yes to the programme, we will therefore require strict control of how harvesting takes place, including independent monitoring of logging and anti-corruption measures. Norway will also require evaluation of environmental impacts and that it prepared measures to combat any negative consequences.
Helgesen states that shifting cultivation and charcoal production are the biggest drivers of deforestation. “Therefore we will use a lot of resources in these areas,” he says.
Helgesen rejects NGOs’ demand that Norway should freeze funding for DRC until local communities’ rights are strengthened. He says,
DRC is one of the world’s poorest countries. To create jobs and revenue would help Congolese authorities to further develop a sustainable and environmentally responsible logging. Our task is not, as environmental organisations argue, to facilitate large greenhouse gas emissions from logging, but to help the DRC to ensure that timber harvesting is carried out in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner.
This is extremely challenging, but it is a challenge we must try to deal with. There is no alternative for us to pull ourselves out.