Time to end impunity in Congo’s forest sector

15 março 2016

The rights of forest communities in the Republic of Congo continue to be violated with impunity, a recent report by the Organisation Congolaise des Droits de l’Homme (OCDH) has concluded.  

These violations are happening despite commitments from the government to improve forest governance through the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade Voluntary Partnership Agreement (FLEGT VPA) between the EU and Congo, and by implementing legislation respecting indigenous peoples’ rights.

The human rights organisation OCDH found that, in the forest sector, logging concern Industrie Forestière d’Ouesso (IFO), an affiliate of Swiss company Danzer, is not meeting its social obligations towards local communities. IFO holds a forest concession of nearly 1.16 million hectares, yet has failed to fulfil its legal obligation to contribute to the development fund, a benefit-sharing scheme intended for local communities.

OCDH reports that local government, in the form of the departmental council in charge of managing these funds, is implicated in the money not reaching its intended recipients.

News of logging companies violating national laws and forest communities’ rights is all too common across Congo. Numerous reports highlight the devastating effects on forests and forest people of the lack of governance, law enforcement and transparency, and the need to end impunity.

With financial support from the EU, Fern’s local partners Azur Développement and Forum Pour la Gouvernance et les Droits Humains are helping local communities to monitor whether benefit-sharing arrangements and participation in decisions that affect them are respected in practice.

Their information is intended to feed into national policy debates on the VPA and REDD+ and ensure that commitments match practice on the ground. It is time for the EU to insist on good faith from its VPA partner in improving governance if it wants the VPA to succeed.EU forest management found to contribute to global warming

Despite increasing in surface area, European forests store less carbon than they did 250 years ago, leaving a carbon debt of 3.1 petagrams of carbon (11.4 billion tonnes of CO2), a recently published article in Science Magazine claims.

Between 1750 and 1850, Europe’s forests grew in area by 196,000 km2. Yet size isn’t everything. The article indicates that, although Europe now has more forests, these are far from their potential carbon-carrying capacity. It queries whether European forest management practices are fit for fighting global warming, and suggests the carbon debt comes from two main factors.

First, replacing broad-leaved forests with coniferous forests that do not lose their needles in winter darkens the landscape, meaning less of the sun’s radiation is reflected. Second, increasing management in forests leads to a lower carbon stock in living biomass, coarse woody debris, litter and soil.

The article comes at an interesting time: European policymakers are due to publish a decision on LULUCF (Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry) as part of the climate and energy package for the period 2021 - 30. The article has a key message for the LULUCF debate: simply encouraging afforestation is not enough to increase the role that European forests play in tackling climate change; managing forests in such a way that allows them to recuperate lost carbon is also critical.

The EU is also currently consulting on sustainable bioenergy policy that is relevant for ensuring forests are fit to mitigate climate change. The renewable energy sector is one of the causes for the declining forest sink that is projected between 2020 and 2030.

Sustainable bioenergy criteria could help limit the pressure on the EU’s sink if they ensured that wood is used in a resource-efficient manner, i.e., only burned as a last resort after it has been used elsewhere in the value chain, thus genuinely contributing to mitigating climate change.

The criteria must also ensure that bioenergy demand does not lead to reduced levels of , coarse woody debris and litter in forests, which, as Science Magazine indicates, significantly decrease forests’ overall carbon storage and mitigation capacity.

Image: Liga Eglite via Flickr

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