Under discussion since 2011, the new Forest Code aims to strengthen forest management and the forest timber sector, whilst improving governance and transparency, fighting deforestation, and advancing local communities’ rights in Congo.
The new law meets the majority of civil society organisations’ (CSO) expectations, even if not always as they would have liked; it is welcomed as “a great relief” and “a victory”. The Code introduces certain concepts and, by elevating others to a higher legal norm, reinforces measures previously scattered in decrees that could be changed at the administration’s discretion.
Among these advances, the participation of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs), enshrined throughout the Code, is crucial. Closer involvement of IPLCs is a clear step towards justice, but also towards efficiency, allowing problems to be avoided upstream instead of requiring them to be fixed downstream. Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is now formally integrated. Independent forest monitoring has also found its place, as have community benefit-sharing in logging revenues, negotiation of social obligations, Local Development Funds and community forests.
Work is now needed on two fronts, starting with drawing up application decrees, which seems stalled. Due to limited funding and pandemic-related uncertainty, the timetable has not yet been set. Work on this will not start from scratch, however; a stakeholder working group began reflecting on details and drawing up draft rules even as the Code was being adopted.
Efforts are now needed to raise awareness of the Code. In the administrative regions, a CSO representative noted that even government delegates and the companies responsible for its application were frequently unaware of the new Code’s content – and sometimes, of its adoption. Both CSOs and central government have an educational role to play; in the case of CSOs, to inform local people about the content of their rights so that they are able to defend them.
Sometimes this will be a journey into unknown territory. CSOs have not yet heard of an attempt to apply FPIC, for example, so they do not yet know what problems will arise, although they are certain that they will! All those involved will have to learn as they go. That said, the spirit of friendly exchange that has reigned throughout the process to revise the Code is encouraging.
Now underway, the revision of NDCs also gives cause for hope, even if certain concerns persist. With support from the United Nations Development Programme, a revised draft of RoC’s NDC is soon expected. CSOs hope to be able to articulate their concerns by March 2021, when the document enters “a more opaque administrative phase” prior to COP26.
One improvement would be to emphasise the inter-sectoral nature of NDCs; the involvement of other relevant ministries − transportation, agriculture, regional planning - was lacking previously, and earlier NDCs remained largely unimplemented.
Social inclusion is also crucial. To fight the climate crisis, RoC has chosen to rely on the sustainable management of the forests on which a third of the population depends directly, and half indirectly. To fail to understand the expectations of these populations − their fear of seeing access to forests restricted or prohibited, for example − would be to adopt inappropriate solutions from the outset, dooming the NDCs to failure. The serious involvement of IPLCs, the women seeing to their families’ needs, and of CSOs that have relevant expertise, is necessary to be effective.
An approach that focuses on mitigating global heating at the expense of adapting to the effects already underway worries CSOs. Already, IPLCs are witnessing impacts in their daily lives: upheaval of the agricultural calendar to which small farmers cannot adjust, having to hunt for ever more distant game, diminished natural resources. The NDCs must strengthen the resilience of these populations.
Finally, CSOs hope the opportunity will be taken to align the NDC process with that of the Third National Scientific Communication that is currently underway, which was not the case for the first NDC. The data from this communication − on distribution of greenhouse gas emissions by sector, for instance – would permit precise, targeted dialogue with each ministry involved.
Once the NDCs are adopted, law enforcement must support the framework in which they operate. Weak implementation and enforcement of laws is notable, due to corruption and to lack of administrative resources; CSOs hope to be able to count on donor support, for instance through the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI).
From interviews with Alfred N’Kodia, Cercle d’Appui à la Gestion Durable des Forêts ; Phons Louis Ntoumbou ; an independent, civil society consultant; and Maixent Fortunin Agnimbat Emeka, Forum pour la Gouvernance et les Droits de l’Homme.