“They delivered emphatically two messages,” said Carter Roberts, the president of the World Wildlife Fund, who attended the talks. “This program for saving the Congo was a fundamental pillar of their vision for the future of their countries,” he said, adding that they emphasized the global benefits of forest conservation. “You can’t solve climate change without saving the Congo and building the financial mechanisms to do the same,” he said.
The United States has spent nearly $100 million over the past eight years to cosponsor the Congo forest partnership. But the United States’ contribution has remained stagnant as newer partners like Britain, France and Germany have pledged as much as $50 million annually.
The money goes toward combatting illegal logging, mining and poaching in the basin, an area roughly the size of Texas that is home to almost 12,000 species of plants, birds, and mammals, including gorillas and chimpanzees. Most of the basin’s forests remain intact, and the rate of clearing is slower than in the Amazon or Indonesia, partly because outside investment has allowed the Congo’s nations to shift their economies to resources other than timber.
But the African contingent at the talks here worried that forests could start to fall if negotiators pursuing a new climate treaty fail to include incentives to conserve so-called low-risk forests like those in the Congo. Agricultural, logging and mining companies that might be forced out of the Amazon or Indonesia by tighter restrictions might see the Congo basin as a ripe target, leaders here said.
Denis Sassou-Nguesso, president of Congo and the lead negotiator for the African Union on climate change, said that domestic pressures on forests have to be countered with other kinds of economic opportunity. “When countries sacrifice a large portion of their grounds for protected areas,” he said, “you cannot ask them not to touch the forests and not give them anything.”