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How African countries can learn from Gabon’s rainforest conservation

gabon's rainforest - cleanbuild

How African countries can learn from Gabon’s rainforest conservation

At the western end of the Congo basin lies Gabon, the second most forested country in the world and one of the countries that the equator passes through.


Its sprawling rainforest covers more than 80% of the country and forms part of the Congo Basin also known as “the lungs of Africa.”


Gabon’s rainforest serves as a rainfall regulator around the greater part of the continent. In fact, Gabon’s forests generate rainfall for the Sahel which is a semi-arid strip running beneath the Sahara.


The rainfall that it generates also goes as far as the Ethiopian highlands, replenishing the Nile and serving Egypt as a result.


Another interesting thing about Gabon’s rainforest — which is the most important reason for this piece — is that it is one of the few carbon trappers the world has today because of its carbon-absorbing capabilities due to its vast rainforest.


Gabon’s rainforest isn’t only vast because of its low deforestation rate and small population. Deliberate efforts were also made by Gabon’s past and present governments to ensure that the forest retains its size.


Its former president, Omar Bongo, created 13 national parks that covered about 10% of the country in 2005 to preserve wildlife and discourage timber exploitation. A forestry law was also passed that mandated sustainable logging by cutting trees on a 25-year rotational basis, thereby serving as a check on deforestation.


Although Gabon gets accolades for the role it plays especially in the climate, there are concerns that its carbon-trapping rainforest could become harmful to the climate in the future. This is because of the carbon emission it produces yearly as a result of decaying plants, deforestation, and wildfire.


According to calculations given to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Gabon’s rainforest absorbs over 100m tonnes of carbon yearly. Imagine if it gets depleted and all the trapped carbon in its soil and trees were to find its way into the atmosphere…yikes!


Anyway, not to worry. The Gabonese government isn’t planning on letting that happen, as the Norwegian government, through the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), has paid Gabon $17m – the first portion of a $150m deal struck in 2019 based on a formula relating to the number of tonnes of carbon that would otherwise have been released. The rest of the $150m should be handed over in the coming years.


Take-home for other African countries


Some African countries at the COP26 climate summit promised to end deforestation by 2030. While this is commendable, they must understand that it takes deliberate efforts to make it work.


Gabon did not drop the ball because of its natural endowment. The government took steps: formulated laws and enforced them.


The thing is, there’s only so much that individuals can do – switching to clean energy, planting pockets of trees, etc. It takes creating policies that are eco-centered and ensuring mass enforcement.


Keeping deforestation rates relatively low is a major driver for climate restoration.


Let’s see how it all plays out.

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