Gabon Receives $150 Million For Forest Preservation

A representative of the Department of the Interior tours one of Gabon’s 13 national parks. (Flickr)

A representative of the Department of the Interior tours one of Gabon’s 13 national parks. (Flickr)

Gabon will receive $150 million from Norway for the preservation of its rainforests in a landmark deal announced at the Climate Action Summit in New York City on September 23. Norway struck the deal in collaboration with the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), a cooperative composed of six African countries, including Gabon, with the stated goal of promoting sustainability and preserving forests in the region. 

According to Ola Elvestuen, the Norweigan minister of climate and environment, the partnership aims to preserve 98 percent of Gabon’s existing rainforests. The deal also incentivizes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by financially rewarding Gabon for lower emission rates.

This agreement is unique in that it marks the first time “an African country will be rewarded in a ten-year deal for… reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.” In 2014, Norway entered into a similar deal with Liberia, which hinged entirely on that country’s future emissions data; however, the partnership between Gabon and Norway reflects Gabon’s prior and ongoing efforts in sustainability. In fact, Norway and CAFI selected Gabon specifically for its past success in conservation.

Gabon’s rainforest plays a major role in the country’s environment and economy. Gabon sits in the Congo Basin, which houses the second-largest rainforest in the world. Forests cover 88 percent of Gabon, accounting for 18 percent of the Congo Basin’s forest. Because rainforests dominate the landscape of the country, the logging industry serves as a major source of employment in the region; approximately 20 percent of the country’s population works in the logging sector.

Gabon’s conservation work traces back to 2002 when the country established its national park system; today, that park system includes 13 separate parks and covers 11 percent of the country’s territory. Gabon also signed a letter of intent with CAFI in 2017 pledging to reduce its total emissions and establish a comprehensive plan to combat deforestation and illegal logging. As a result, Gabon stands at the forefront of environmental preservation in Africa, a status which is reflected in its biodiversity. Notably, the rainforests of Gabon house over 50 percent of the continent’s remaining population of forest elephants despite containing less than 20 percent of the region’s forests.

Despite government efforts, illegal logging has plagued Gabon in recent years. The Environmental Investigation Agency released a report in March 2019 finding that Chinese companies in the Congo Basin had “broken the most fundamental forest laws … and diverted millions in unpaid taxes from the governments of Gabon and the Republic of Congo.” The investigation discovered that the Chinese companies had routinely bribed government officials in order to access lumber; the illegal lumber had reached both U.S. and European markets, the report found.

Only months after the report’s publication, Gabon’s reputation for conservation took another hit when customs agents found protected Gabonese hardwood in China. A large portion of this shipment vanished after it was confiscated by authorities, creating a corruption scandal in Gabon and damaging the legal logging industry. According to Philippe Fievez, the head of the largest timber company operating in Gabon, his company laid off a third of its employees during the crisis, inflicting serious economic hardship on the people of Gabon.

Despite these recent scandals, representatives from Norway, Gabon, and CAFI have adopted an optimistic outlook following the landmark deal. Lee White, Gabon’s minister of forest, seas, environment, and climate change, said that the agreement will lead to more like it and encourage “rainforest countries to follow our example.” Similarly, Norway’s Elvestuen called the deal a “major breakthrough” in the United Nation’s initiative to reduce emissions and deforestation.