Gabon will become the first African nation to receive funding to preserve its rainforests to mitigate the effects of climate change. As part of a 10-year deal announced on Sunday (Sept. 22), Norway will pay $150 million to Gabon to battle deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The deal is part of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), which was launched by the United Nations in 2015 to link European donors with countries in Africa. The partnership sets a carbon floor price of $10 per certified ton and will be paid on the basis of verified results from 2016 through to 2025.
Gabon, which is on the Atlantic Ocean, has just 2 million people and abundant natural resources. Forests cover almost 90% of the country. Since the early 2000s, it has created more than a dozen national parks to preserve the forests. Gabon also has around 12% of the Congo Basin forest, which is considered the world’s second largest tropical rainforest. The country hosts 60% of Africa’s surviving forest elephants, which CAFI describes as “a key indicator of sound natural resource governance.”
Across west and equatorial Africa, illegal logging is ravaging the forests, much of it driven by demand from China. Gabon, for instance, is home to kevazingo, a reddish wood that some local communities consider sacred. But kevazingo timber is also used to make high-end furniture in Asia. Despite a 2018 government ban, kevazingo has become the target of smugglers. In May, president Ali Bongo fired his vice president and his forests minister after hundreds of seized containers with the precious timber went missing. Bongo then appointed Lee White, a British-born conservationist, as minister of forests.
I am at #NatureNow in New York and have just been challenged by twins Kaitlin and Lauren Grierson to plant 1000 trees for every young person in Gabon. I already had a plan to plant a tree for every one of our 2 million citizens. Now I am being challenged to plant a billion! pic.twitter.com/R1VFpiIi0S
— Prof. Lee White CBE (@LeeWhiteCBE) September 22, 2019
White has said the deal with Norway will allow the government “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 biodiverse ecosystems.”
The Gabon-Norway partnership was announced just days after protestors took to the streets of several African cities and around the world to demand political action to combat climate change. It also comes as government, businesses, and civil society representatives gather in New York today (Sept. 23) for a special United Nations climate action summit.
While the Gabon-Norway deal is historic, it isn’t the first time an African country has promised to protect its natural resources for financial benefit. In a 2018 deal with the US-headquartered charity The Nature Conservancy, Seychelles agreed to swap part of its debt for a plan that designated nearly a third of its waters as protected areas.