Unless we place real economic value on our forests, we are lost

This largely explains the country’s exceptional biodiversity, which retained much of its lush tropical rainforest cover during the Pleistocene era – the last 2.5 million years – when other parts of the Congo Basin moved to the savannah as the climate became drier. during the 20 ice ages that our planet experienced during this period.

Gabon is surrounded by extremely vulnerable to the ravages of climate change and the resulting conflicts and political turmoil. Likewise, a 500-year phase of climate stress in Central Africa around 2,500 years ago prompted the Bantu of Cameroon and Gabon to march towards South Africa, Gabon could face a massive influx. climate refugees in the decades to come.

I fear we face a future that sees us losing the rainforests of the Congo Basin, releasing 80 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere and tilting the planet to a plus 5C future. The insecurity, human migration and loss of ecosystem services that would occur as deforestation accelerates and the forests of the Congo Basin decrease, and with them the rainfall they generate at local and regional levels, would be fuel a continental crisis that is spreading across Europe and the Middle East. This takes us beyond a tipping point where ecological and climate disasters will spiral out of control on a global scale.

If we are to avoid this alternate future, which probably only has about 30 years ahead of us, we need to take stock of how we got to this point in history, adopt a plan of action and act decisively.

How did we get here?

We have not assigned the correct value to the ecosystem services provided by the natural resources on which we depend for development. For centuries this was out of ignorance, and at first it had little or no impact, but after the 1972 United Nations Environment Summit, or the Earth Summit in Rio 20 years later, we cannot pretend to be ignorant. In Rio in 1992, we knew that for every hectare of natural forest that we cleared, there was a price that future generations would have to pay, that for every ton of coal or oil that we burned, we had to absorb a quantity. CO2 equivalent and somehow purifies the air we breathe.

Some countries have taken note of this. Perhaps the best example is Costa Rica, whose ecosystem services began to fail when forest cover fell by 20% in the early 1980s. Today forest cover has returned to more than 50% and Costa Rica is a world leader in integrating the value of environmental services and biodiversity into national development decisions.

In Rio, President Omar Bongo of Gabon said in his statement that “Too often in Africa, we have felt compelled to develop at any cost.”

He was referring to the environmental cost of poor development decisions which, often compounded by the impacts of climate change, lock countries into poverty and environmental degradation. Having participated in Stockholm and Rio, his reaction was to reform forestry to make it sustainable and create a network of national parks – actions that have completely changed the environmental trajectory of the country.

In 2011, at the Durban Climate Change COP, President Ali Bongo Ondimba pushed Gabon on the path to sustainability, ironically by removing the country from the UNFCCC REDD + process.

In 2009, shortly after his election, he had banned the export of unprocessed logs from Gabon, based on the fact that we could never manage our forests sustainably if we continued the tragic development model of providing cheap raw materials to the rest of the world. Only 8% of the potential value and job creation is realized in Gabon if we export logs. For a century, Gabon had subsidized the development of the economies of Germany, France, Belgium, China, Malaysia and the United States, allowing them to capture more than 90% of the value of our natural resources.

After sitting alongside His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales with the leaders of the G20 countries in London in 2008 when a quick start package for REDD + was announced, then sat for 25 hours in the small room where 20 chefs of State wrote the Copenhagen Okay, he knew that he would have been totally irresponsible if he had bet the future of the Gabonese economy and its forests on the goodwill of the donor countries. He asked us to build a new development model, like Costa Rica, this would ensure Gabon’s economic and social development and the future of its tropical forests.

If we can capture 90%, rather than 9%, of the economic value and jobs generated by our forests by exporting finished products rather than raw logs, there is a chance that our economists will start to put the true value of our forests. forests in their models. Today, thanks to sound environmental management, our forests absorb nearly 100 million tonnes of CO2 per year in addition to our total emissions. Gabon is not aiming for net zero in 2050 or 2060 – we are trying to maintain and increase our net removals.

The tragedy is that when an industrialist captures a ton of “dirty” carbon dioxide in a coal-fired power plant in Poland, it’s worth around € 60, but a pure ton of CO2 from the Gabonese rainforest with co-benefits for climate and biodiversity has no value in the eyes of the international community.

How long will Gabon, Costa Rica and other similar countries have to go it alone and find our own models to value nature? When will the world finally realize the benefits of nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change and the intrinsic and economic value of growing tropical forests to the global economy and integrate natural capital into global financial strategies? ?

I feel like there is a positive movement in the right direction, but it’s too slow not to worry terribly about the world I leave for my teenage children.

This article is part of a thought leadership series, Natural Capital Power, which will be deployed on the forestLAB website www.forestlab.partners from June 3. forestLAB is a new research collaboration between the London School of Economics Grantham Climate Change Research Institute, Stirling University and The African Conservation Development Group.

About Matthew Berkey

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