Gabon becomes first African country to receive payments for preserved rainforest

The Central African country of Gabon has signed a $150 million agreement with Norway in partnership with the Central African forest initiative (CAFI), to continue fighting climate change through preserving and managing its natural resources sustainably.

“Norway is committing to compensating us for reducing emissions,” forestry minister Lee White told AFP in an interview in New York, ahead of a UN climate summit on Monday.

This will be the first time that an African country will be given a 10-year deal for both reducing its greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation, and for absorptions of carbon dioxide by natural forests. Gabon will also receive  $10 from Norway for every ton of carbon not emitted.

“They will pay us because we have not deforested and because we’ve managed logging responsibly, and reduced emissions linked to logging,” the British and Gabonese national said, speaking in French.

Nearly 90 percent of the country is covered with forests, and this partnership could help Gabon to maintain 98 percent of it moving forward. Gabon has preserved the majority of its pristine rainforest since the early 2000s in creating 13 national parks, one of which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The country has made significant advances in the sustainable management of its timber resources outside the parks. As a result, whilst it only has 12 percent of the Congo Basin forests, Gabon hosts almost 60 percent of the surviving forest elephants in Africa – a key indicator of sound natural resource governance.

“It takes properly into account Gabon’s special status as a country with high forest cover and low deforestation. Gabon is 88 percent covered with forests, and I hope our partnership can help them reach their goal to maintain 98 percent of these in the future,” said Ola Elvestuen, Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment.

This announcement was made as world leaders gathered in New York at the call of UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit to put forward realistic plans to enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) by 2020, in order to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. In its expected new NDC, Gabon seeks to reduce its emissions by more than 50 percent compared to 2005 – effectively cutting by half the emissions from the forest sector.

Just like most African countries, Gabon is not without its environmental and political challenges. Early this year, it was faced with corruption scandal over illegal logging that led to the sacking of the former forests minister and the ongoing uncertainty over the health status of ailing President Ali Bongo.  

“We have to raise the value of the Gabonese rain forests in order to ensure that conservation and sustainable exploitation can be used as tools to improve the living standards of the Gabonese people by creating jobs and livelihoods, whilst also sustaining natural capital, and to preserve our natural treasures and biodiversity ecosystems” commented Gabon’s Minister of Forest, Seas, Environment and Climate Change, Professor Lee White.

Professor Lee also said that Norway’s agreement to double the price of a ton of rain forest carbon dioxide is highly significant and gives us hope that the international community will move towards a realistic price that will provide a real incentive for rain forest countries to follow our example. 

The highly expensive woods from Gabon are usually demanded in high quantity in China and are used to make furniture.