Rainforest to be felled with Norwegian money? Stop it!

A huge tree is pulled with a skidder in a tropical rainforest in Central Africa Industrial logging of rainforests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (© Global Witness)

The Norwegian government is considering whether to finance industrial logging in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Twenty million hectares of virgin rainforest could be given to the logging industry. Trade in tropical timber destroys the livelihoods of humans and animals – and fuels climate change.

Call to action

To: Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg

Read letter

The second largest rainforest on the planet is located in the Congo Basin in Central Africa. The virgin forests are home to a tremendous diversity of species, including chimpanzees, bonobos and forest elephants. They are also home to millions of people and store gigantic amounts of carbon.

It is hard to believe, but as part of its climate protection policy, the Norwegian government is planning to finance the deforestation of the rainforest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The tropical timber industry is to receive 20 million hectares of rainforest – more than double the area of Portugal – as logging concessions, warns the British environmental organisation Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK).

The Norwegian government wants to allocate 16 million euros to the project through its climate and forest protection programme Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI). The project was developed by the French state development agency AFD.

Not only do the trees store massive amounts of carbon, but so does the soil: Vast areas of the planned concessions stand on thick layers of peat. These contain on average almost 2,200 tonnes of carbon per hectare. Around 10.4 Giga tons of CO2 could be released through logging, as calculated by the RFUK. This corresponds to over 200 years of Norway’s own annual CO2 emissions currently estimated as 53.4 Mega tons CO2 equivalent.

Simon Counsell, Director of the RFUK explains:

The government of Norway risks putting globally significant stores of carbon at risk through misguided support for so-called sustainable forest management in DRC. Instead of expanding large-scale timber-felling, Norway should work with the Congolese government to shut down the half of the country’s logging areas which the law requires to be closed and returned to the state”.

Back­ground

Climate and forest protection financed by the exploitation of oil and gas in the Arctic

The policy of the Norwegian government is fraught with many questions. The source of Norwegian REDD money is the exploitation of offshore oil and gas, which has made Norway one of the richest countries in the world. The burning of fossil fuels is the main cause of global climate change.

On 21 June 2017, the Norwegian oil minister submitted 102 new concession areas to the oil and gas industry, 93 of which are located in the Arctic Barents Sea and off the Norwegian coast. Environmentalists have sharply protested against the plans. The Norwegian Environment Agency tried unsuccessfully to exclude 20 concession blocks near Bear Island from the bidding because it is an important breeding area for Arctic birds. The oil and gas companies now have until the end of November to submit their proposals to the government.

Other activities that are harmful to the environment such as shipping, industrial fishing and salmon farming in cages in the sea are cornerstones of Norwegian prosperity. Scandinavians do not even want to cease whaling. The gross domestic product per inhabitant of Norway is nominally 63,000 euros per year (2017), while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo it is about 700 euros.

CO2 emissions, caused mainly by the rich industrialized nations, lead to global climate change, for which especially the "poor" countries in the tropics will have to suffer dramatic consequences. Projections warn that large swaths around the equator could become uninhabitable due to very high temperatures and lack of precipitation.

Norway apparently wants to distract attention away from its petroleum and gas production in the Artic through its donations. Investments in rainforest protection projects create the appearance that Norway is offsetting its carbon emissions; however, environmentalists criticise Norway’s policy as “climate hypocrisy”.

Tthe Scandinavian country invests a small portion of its prosperous revenues in environmental projects around the world. For many years now, Norway has funded environmental protection projects globally through its International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI), which was founded in 2007. They have invested approximately 2.7 billion euros so far, according to their own data.

One such investment is in the Amazon Fund in Brazil, which Norway has sponsored with around one billion euros since 2008. The project aims to reduce deforestation in the Amazon. As the rate of forest clearance in Brazil rose again, the Norwegian government cut back the funds and has threatened to stop financing completely.

The Central African Forests Initiative (CAFI) is an initiative of the Norwegian Ministry for Climate and Forests set up in 2015. Other members are Germany, the European Union, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and South Korea. Under the motto "fight climate change, protect forests, reduce poverty and contribute to sustainable development" the initiative aims to finance and support programmes to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation Central Africa, particularly in DRC, where it will support the country’s ‘REDD+ Investment Plan’. This Plan has been strongly criticised by international and local environmental groups. CAFI is financed with $190m from the Norwegian government and $3m from the French government.

DRC authorities and Norway’s CAFI programme are expected to decide within the next month whether to approve a French Development Agency (AFD) project proposal, one of whose objectives is to support and expand industrial logging in DRC’s forests. According to the AFD’s programme - called the “Sustainable Forest Management Programme” (PGDF) - the area of DRC allocated to industrial logging concessions could triple to 300,000 km2 (or a quarter of the country’s forests) and the amount of industrially exploited wood could increase by a factor of 15. The programme would also provide financial support to industrial logging companies active in DRC.

Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment Vidar Helgesen stated his support for “careful logging” of DRC’s forests in an interview for Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet on 19 Feb. 2017.

DRC adopted a moratorium on the allocation of new industrial logging concessions in 2002. The aim was to enable the country, emerging from a civil war, to develop a sustainable logging industry capable, in particular, of creating jobs and generating tax revenues for the country. Specific conditions were set under a 2007 Presidential Decree for the lifting of the moratorium - conditions which remain unmet.

29 of the current 57 legally issued large-scale logging concessions in DRC, covering just over five million hectares, have no valid management plan more than five years after their concession contracts were signed. Under DRC’s legislation, these concessions have to be “automatically terminated and returned to the state”.

REDD - Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation is a scheme which allows continued greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels by offsetting these emissions against “avoided deforestation” in the Global South. More information about this very controversial issue in the climate change debate on REDD-Monitor.

Sources and more information:

- Press  release Rainforest Foundation UK from 21st of June 2017: Norwegian government priming a ‘carbon bomb’ in Congo's rainforests?

- Letter from the Rainforest Foundation UK to the Norwegian Premioer Minister from 21st of June 2017

- Briefing from the Rainforest Foundation UK: Logging in Congo’s rainforests: A carbon bomb about to be primed by the government of Norway?

- Article from Le Monde Afrique: L’Agence française de développement se défend de livrer les forêts du Congo aux grandes concessions

- Article from REDD Monitor: Climate hypocrisy: Norway tells Brazil off about deforestation while expanding Arctic oil exploration

- Article in REDD Monitor: Saving rainforests by cutting down trees? Controversy over logging plans in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Letter

To: Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg

Prime Minister Erna Solberg
The Office of the Prime Minister of Norway
P.O. Box 8001 dep.
(NO-)0030 Oslo Norway

Wednesday, 21st June 2017

Dear Prime Minister Solberg,

POTENTIALLY DISASTROUS NORWEGIAN SUPPORT FOR EXPANSION OF LARGE SCALE LOGGING IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

We are writing to bring to your attention, and to ask for your immediate intervention, to prevent what we believe would be a gravely misguided initiative which is being considered for support by your government through its Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI).

Attached is a briefing explaining the issues. However, to summarise, your government is considering providing financial support for a project that will serve to greatly expand large-scale logging in the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This will, we believe, place at risk not only globally important ecosystems and the people that live there, but also vast amounts of carbon stored in the soils below the forest. We have estimated the possible carbon stores at risk as being roughly equivalent to 200 years’ worth of Norway’s own annual carbon emissions. Twenty million hectares of rainforest could be affected, damaged and eventually destroyed as a result of the proposed project.

We are asking you personally to intervene as, regrettably, your Minister for Climate and Environment, Vidar Helgesen, has already made it clear that he is in favour of providing Norwegian support to the logging of Congo’s rainforests.

We ask you to state clearly that the government of Norway will not support any project which serves to increase logging in the Congo, and specifically will not fund the abovementioned project in any way, shape or form. We ask that you instruct the minister and his officials to instead develop programmes to support the Congolese government to dismantle the five million hectares of large-scale logging concessions which are currently operating illegally and causing serious damage to the forest.

We thank you for giving your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,
Simon Counsell, Executive Director

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