The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Rainforest Scandal

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, is home to the planet’s second biggest rainforest. It’s unbelievably precious, home to bonobos, one of our closest relatives, amongst numerous other unique flora and fauna. The government is about to  remove a 2002 moratorium on new industrial logging, and conservation groups are up in arms. It’s yet another case of human interests versus nature, where short termism trumps long term benefits.

Deforestation, climate change and local people’s needs

Environmental groups across the planet say ending the logging ban flies in the face of the nation’s international forest protection reforms and damages international efforts to combat climate change.

Rainforest conservation is vital to the human race’s longer term survival. But at the same time around 40 million people depend on the Republic’s forests for food, fuel, water and more. And this is why the country is thinking of making the move. The decision is based on economics, according to a statement by the DRC’s  Environment Minister Robert Bopolo Bogeza. And he confesses that the lifting of the ban is already underway.

Logging so far has been an economic fail in the DRC

Conservationists don’t think the move would help the DRC’s economy. They say the average citizen would see a ‘negligible’ benefit from handing out more logging contracts. The logging companies themselves also have a vital role to play in conservation, and they’re obviously not taking that role seriously, also hooked on dangerous short term thinking and fast profits.

About a tenth of the country’s rainforest is already being logged, but 2014 saw just 8 million US dollars in revenue from the sector, about 12 cents for every head of the Congo’s population, hardly worth the bother. And the downsides for everyone on earth are profound.

7 million hectares already lost to illegal logging

The online forest monitoring people at Global Forest Watch have revealed the DRC lost about 7 million hectares of forest between 2003 and 2014, mostly through illegal logging. Most of the losses occurred in the northern Congo Basin rainforests.

Conservationists say the moratorium on will put the DRC’s remaining primary forest at risk as well as damaging worldwide efforts to halt global warming. Some even say the move will prove a catastrophe for DRC’s forests. They say that rather than encourage industrial logging, the country’s government should commit to long-term forest protection and community investment.

Let’s hope common sense prevails and the DRC’s government changes focus to logging alternatives to help the country’s people prosper.

Article by The Rainforest Foundation.


Democratic Republic of Congo set to lose as much as 20% of its forests

The University of Vermont has been busy looking at Congo’s rainforests, and the news as it stands is pretty bad. Unless the country puts in place strict new conservation efforts, they look like losing a massive 20% of their forests… which will in turn drive a dreadful 60% hike in CO2 emissions.

Examining some of the world’s biggest CO2 reserves

The researchers explored the fate of central Africa’s vast tropical forests, among the planet’s biggest carbon reserves where carbon is safely locked away. These forests traditionally have very low rates of deforestation, but the pressure is on to clear land for development, foreign nations are investing heavily in farming and land use management is in a state of chaos in many places.

Only 10% of the DRC’s forests are protected

The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to a vast area of unspoiled African forest which, between them, hang onto about 22 billion tons of carbon in their biomass. On the other hand just 10% of the nation’s forests are protected. And their current approach to forest management is well below standard.

The study simulated changes in land use and carbon emissions by computer, taking three likely policy scenarios into account and running the model between 2010 to 2050. The scientists found that passively protecting the DRC’s forests and savannah isn’t enough. It also revealed how increased conservation measures are essential for the ongoing protection of the forests and the many unique creatures that live there.

What’s the solution to the threat of deforestation in the DRC?

The sheer size and importance of the carbon sink these forests represent means they actually play a vital part in the global battle against an out-of-control carbon cycle. So what can be done in real terms?

For a start, better conservation efforts are a must, things like new protected areas, zoning land use wisely and thinking more about farming intensively than expanding the amount of land used to grow crops.

Assuming the DRC government acts fast these measures could cut deforestation by more than 50% compared to the current situation, when they’re doing more or less nothing.

Researchers have also added better worldwide support for REDD+ and a United Nations forest conservation and carbon reduction plan to the mix, in support of the country’s conservation goals. Let’s hope the research prompts fast and effective action.

Nature magazine reveals African rainforests are drying out

A new study by Liming Zhou and colleagues of Albany University reveals how, between 2000 and 2012, the African Congo’s forest cover has turned brown as it adjusts to long term drier conditions. The decline in tree cover revealed by the study is expected to lead to serious habitat loss, as well as dramatic changes in the forest’s ability to store carbon.

The Congo suffers ‘persistent’ drought

The Congo’s forest is the planet’s second biggest rainforest. Since the year 2000 it has suffered from persistent drought. And the climate changes are leading to a dramatic change in the forest’s composition.

More than ten thousand plant species grow there, around 30% of which are unique to the region. It’s also rich in animal life, including chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and elephants. There are about a thousand bird species and more than 700 types of fish, making the Congo Basin a particularly unique and precious environment.

The scientists brought the Enhanced Vegetation Index into play to figure out whether the forest’s ‘greenness’ is changing reveal its overall health. The results were worrying. It appears that there’s a steady decline in the region ‘s health and the rainforest’s canopy is steadily becoming less green, more brown. It’s a different picture from the Amazon’s rainforests, where dry episodes kill trees off very quickly.

Tropical droughts take their toll

The Congo Basin is already known to be fairly resilient to moderate climate change, since the dry conditions there have already lasted a few hundred years. But recent climate anomalies caused by human activity and the Atlantic Ocean’s steady warming have created severe tropical droughts which are having a big impact on rainforests.

The browning identified by the team is consistent with regional decreases seen in water levels. The temperature of the Congo as a whole is also on the up, with more sunlight and less cloud cover, a major tree stressor.

More findings on the way as the study continues

The study is set to continue, looking next at the effects of climate change on individual tree species. It may turn out that the unprecedented dry spell might affect evergreens more than deciduous species. It’s vital to find out, since so many global warming models predict tropical forests may suffer worse than other environments from a shortage of water.