It is too early to predict outcomes of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP27) now underway in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, but there is widespread agreement that any proposed solutions to the global climate crisis must integrate the tropical rainforests of the Congo Basin, the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest and its largest terrestrial carbon sink. Fern’s civil society partners in the Congo Basin are therefore keeping an eye on the EU and their governments’ actions to deliver on climate plans, participation, and transparency.
Even if current climate commitments are all implemented, the UN Environment Programme reports, that we are still on track to get walloped by a 2.7°C temperature rise by the century’s end – a far cry from the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. A considerable increase in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) ambition is needed, but clearly so is an active commitment to halt deforestation. In the Congo Basin as elsewhere, however, forest destruction continues to rise. Recent NDCs fall short of the mark, both in ambition and implementation, and must be tightened as a matter of urgency.
Yet progress here hinges on forest communities’ rights, adequate finance, and transparency in forest governance.
Global climate action must be in lockstep with protecting the rights of local, forest-dependent communities and Indigenous Peoples. Time and again, research shows that they are the best guardians of the forest, and guarantors of sustainable use of natural resources: where Indigenous land tenure is secured, forests are destroyed less.
Climate finance must reach these communities. Glasgow’s COP26 witnessed a positive indication of European donors’ will to recognise the Congo Basin’s essential climate role, committing US$1.5 billion. However, little progress has been made with regard to the adequacy and transparency of financial flows that are notoriously difficult to trace. A short video made by a coalition of civil society organisations in the Congo Basin, supported by Fern and Transparency International, highlights that a considerable amount of forest-related climate finance continues to be lost to corruption. The newly announced Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership will now make it or break it for forests.
Requiring the respect of provisions surrounding transparency and access to information would help civil society and forest communities to play a crucial watchdog role in ensuring equitable, inclusive forest governance.
New policy tools are being developed. Depending on how a multitude of details take shape, the Forest Partnerships announced by the President of the European Commission at COP27 could prove instrumental, especially if they implicate a strong role for civil society and adequate resources. The EU is negotiating a Regulation on deforestation-free products that will require due diligence for forest-risk products imported into the EU (FW 279): again, much depends on details.
The acquis of existing governance tools should not get lost in the mix: Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) required broad forest law reforms among partner countries, and they insisted on – in many cases, introduced – civil society and community participation. Other valuable programmes such as the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) have built on this, and Fern’s civil society partners in the Congo Basin have made specific recommendations concerning each.
The world is watching COP27 with the hope that participants will keep rights, transparency, and participation central to discussions so as to help deliver the action needed to tackle climate change.