A tailor-made rainforest summit for Gabon

The Raponda Walker arboretum in the Giant Woods National Reserve, north of Libreville (Gabon), February 28, 2023.
The Raponda Walker arboretum in the Giant Woods National Reserve, north of Libreville (Gabon), February 28, 2023. LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP

Neither the place nor the time? The summit on the protection of tropical forests organized on the 1er and March 2 in Libreville, under the aegis of France and Gabon, opens in an atmosphere weighed down by the political dimension of the event for opponents of Ali Bongo Ondimba’s regime. Six months before the next presidential election, scheduled for August 2023, the trip of French President Emmanuel Macron and the influx of foreign personalities invited to this One Forest Summit are seen as an unwelcome gesture of support for a leader of State in contested re-election in 2016 and whose family control over the country totals, with the exercise of his father, Omar Bongo (from 1967 to his death, in 2009), fifty-five years.

A few days before the meeting, Emmanuel Macron’s entourage tried to clear up the subject, assuring that the president did not come “neither dub nor stigmatize anyone” and remained true to his doctrine of “talk to everyone”. The president himself defended himself from making a “election journey”during the presentation of the main lines of his African policy for his second term, Monday, February 27.

Precursor country

The holding of the summit was decided during the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in November 2022 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. For Paris, it must be a step in the implementation of international commitments made to deal with climate change and the collapse of biodiversity, by highlighting the role that forest carbon sinks can play. And, in particular, that formed by the forests of Central Africa, whose capacity to absorb carbon dioxide – 1.5 billion tonnes per year, or 4% of global emissions – is now greater than that of Europe. Amazonia.

Gabon, whose territory covers just over 10% of the Congo Basin, is considered a pioneer in the sustainable management of forests and the protection of biodiversity, with the creation, in the early 2000s, of around ten natural reserves, the prohibition, ten years later, of the export of raw wood or even the requirement of certification of forest concessions. Choices that allow him today to present himself as “the most ‘carbon positive’ country in the world”. Read also Gabon rewarded for the protection of its forests

A success that some observers qualify, however, such as the economist of the Center for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD) Alain Karsenty, recalling that Gabon is an oil-producing country with a low population, with 2.2 million inhabitants. 90% concentrated in cities. This shelters it – unlike the neighboring giant of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – from the main cause of deforestation: the push of agricultural fronts to feed and provide wood energy to a population of nearly 100 millions of people.

“Vital reserves of biodiversity”

Be that as it may, its statehood at “high forest cover and low deforestation” makes him a candidate for “partnerships for positive conservation” that France intends to support. This initiative launched at COP27 is in line with the spirit of “partnerships for a just energy transition” established with a few countries, such as South Africa or Vietnam, in order to financially support the exit of these countries from fossil fuels.Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers At COP15 against desertification, major declarations but no major political decision

Here, the idea, first developed by the American NGO Conservation International, is to reach political and financial agreements with the States that are home to what scientists define as “vital stores of carbon and biodiversity”. These spaces composed of ancient forests, peat bogs and mangroves cover only 14% of the earth’s surface, but they concentrate 91% of the habitats of vertebrate species and 75% of the carbon qualified as “unrecoverable”, meaning in this that the destruction of these CO sensors2 would release such quantities into the atmosphere that the most dramatic effects of the climate crisis would be inevitable. However, more than half of these spaces are not subject to any protection. At COP27, Colombia, the Philippines and Gabon volunteered to initiate this discussion with industrialized countries.

Pending the creation of adequate financial mechanisms, it is by selling its carbon credits that Gabon intends to see its efforts rewarded. At the end of 2022, the climate convention validated its calculations. “I have 90 million tonnes of carbon heating up in my pockets”welcomed, in mid-February, the Gabonese Minister of the Environment, Lee White, on the set of the program “Internationales” (TV5 Monde in partnership with The world). Before a more bitter observation: “But nobody wants to buy them. Neither states nor companies. We played the game. It took us ten years to negotiate the rules of the REDD mechanism [réduction d’émissions liées à la déforestation et la dégradation des forêts] supposed to remunerate the virtuous countries and eight years so that our policies produce their results. The reality is that it doesn’t work. »

Replace the oil rent

This British-born biologist, craftsman for almost thirty years of Gabon’s conservation policy, dreams of replacing the oil revenue which is running out with an economy based on the sustainable exploitation of the forest and the monetization of the ecosystem services that she gives back to humanity. Before the summit, French diplomacy was very active in encouraging large French companies to buy Gabonese credits. Axa, BNP Paribas, Amundi or even the Mirova investment fund – which manages part of the Kering or Orange portfolio in favor of nature protection – have thus been closely associated. Without masking, for some, their reluctance. “We are not here to remunerate States whose governance and levels of corruption remain problematic”raised one of them, on condition of anonymity.Read the article Central African Forest: Lee White’s Green Deal

Gabon is not the only State to want to directly manage its potential carbon rent. Honduras and Papua New Guinea have recently banned private projects that allow companies to buy credits on the voluntary market to offset part of their emissions and display carbon neutrality. In the region, Congo-Brazzaville and the DRC are also claiming to become players in a “sovereign” carbon market, which the climate convention provides for without having finalized the rules.


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However, a survey published on January 23 by the British daily The Guardian And the german weekly Die Zeit, in collaboration with the association of investigative journalists SourceMaterial, cast deep doubt on the reality of the contribution of forestry projects (protection, reforestation, afforestation) to the fight against global warming. It reveals that 90% of the credits from voluntary projects certified by the main certification body Verra do not correspond to any real profit, and concludes that there is a massive presence of “ghost credits” on this climate exchange.Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers “The climate benefits of ‘carbon offsetting’ are exaggerated at best, imaginary at worst”

These revelations reinforce the camp of those who plead for the abusive use of these compensation mechanisms to be abandoned. The discussion will not be settled in Libreville, but the other countries of the Congo Basin – eclipsed by Gabon – will at least here be unanimous in observing, once again, that the funding promised by industrialized countries to curb deforestation does not are not on schedule. Before meeting again in June for another summit devoted to tropical forests, this time under the aegis of the United Nations, in Congo-Brazzaville.

Laurence Caramel

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