Logging in the Congo Exacerbates Poverty and Leads to Social Conflicts
By Susanne Breitkopf
Alfonse Muhindo and Silas Siakor have traveled all the way to Washington, D.C. from the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia. Walking into the enormous atrium of the World Bank, filled with glass and light and a fountain in the center sending endless water flowing down the walls, the visitors are then greeted by big, shiny letters on the wall of the entrance hall—“Our dream is a world without poverty."
Ten years ago, the World Bank initiated a reform of the forest sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country was in shambles, after years of war, with a dysfunctional government and war still raging in the east of the country. The Congo, a country almost the size of Western Europe, has the second largest rainforest in the world. Most of the vast, low land rainforests are still intact. Forty million people depend on the forests for their livelihoods. It provides food, building materials, energy, medicines and more.
We are joined by my friend Reiner Tegtmeyer, from the organization Global Witness who is attending this World Bank event to screen a film from his visits to 67 local communities affected by logging in the Congo, trying to find out what has changed after almost ten years of World Bank sponsored reform. The results he presents in the film are sobering. “They take our trees without leaving anything," an angry man says into the camera. A woman adds, “There have been no positive impacts, only disorder."
Tegtmeyer informs the audience, "We have tons of this material, this is only a snapshot.”
Another woman in the film recalls her village’s worst nightmare, describing security forces—including police—called in by a Liechtenstein-based logging company who raided the place and raped women, including minors. “They even raped a pregnant woman and left her to die," she says. That was in 2006. The children of these crimes have been born in the meantime, but the victims have never seen justice.
This year it happened again, in another area controlled by SIFORCO, a subsidiary of Swiss group Danzer. Villagers were fed up with the broken promises and seized some equipment from the company in order to get them to the negotiation table. In a mission of brutal retaliation, security forces came to the loggers’ assistance, raped women and girls, beat people up and destroyed property. Sixteen people were arrested by police and deported to prison. Company equipment and money was used to help facilitate the crack-down. Siforco is currently preparing for an eco-label certification with the help of the German development bank KfW.
Watching the testimonials, one wonders how the World Bank could continue to celebrate its success in the Congo forest so enthusiastically. Never mind that the moratorium on new logging titles it helped install was breached just weeks after it was signed in 2002. Never mind that most of the much touted millions of hectares of cancelled logging titles were in fact just paper titles where no tree was being cut. Never mind that the government increased the number of legal logging titles from originally 29, recommended by its own experts, to 80 as of January 2011. Never mind that the negotiations about so-called social responsibility contracts between communities and logging companies have been a complete farce. For the World Bank, this reform is an extraordinary achievement.
I ask the bank’s senior forest advisor who joined us for the screening, "After ten years of successful World Bank intervention, why are the rights of local communities still being trampled on?" Four years ago, Greenpeace produced a film that has a striking resemblance to the images Tegtmeyer is showing us today. What happened to all that money that was supposed to improve governance and bring transparency and sustainability to the logging industry?
The DRC is not the only and not the first country where the World Bank has been pushing logging reform programs, and there are important lessons to be learned from the past. This is why I focus my presentation on Cameroon, the pioneer of forest reform where a new forest law was introduced already in 1994. The World Bank was instrumental in bringing it about, and hailed it as Africa’s most progressive forest law. The World Bank pushed through changes in the tax regime in order to increase revenues from logging, and a requirement for companies to have an approved management plan for their cutting operations. A regulation to enable community forests was also added. Seventeen years later, it is obvious that the model has failed.
Recent studies are showing that, even if the theory of sustainable management was working—which it isn’t—there is nothing sustainable about it. In fact, it will be only a matter of time until the ancient trees will be gone forever from Cameroon’s sustainably logged forests. Communities in and around logging concessions in Cameroon are still impoverished. The revenues are not reaching them. But the World Bank set out to copy and paste the Cameroonian model in the DRC, despite our warnings.
Gerhard Dieterle has been working in the World Bank’s forest department for many years. He admits that “looking at these pictures is depressing, undeniably deplorable." He agrees that more needs to be done to support community forests and local management. He is personally involved in a couple of small new initiatives at the World Bank with the aim of strengthening local control in the forest sector and supporting indigenous peoples.
“We have learned a lot," he concedes. However, as long as the mainstream operations of the World Bank continue to focus on support for large scale logging concessions, and continue to ignore the needs of local communities and indigenous peoples, these little initiatives on the side remain a drop in the ocean—a fig leaf exercise.
Alfonse from the DRC has a clear message to the World Bank—Change your strategy and shift your support to programs that strengthen and benefit poor local communities. He and the members of his network have started to take things into their own hands. Congolese civil society groups are drafting legislation to regulate the informal logging and charcoal sector, which provide millions of poor with income, but is in desperate need of clear and equitable regulation. They have also started an initiative to measure and improve transparency in the forest sector together with international partners. And they are working hard to finally provide a legal basis for communities to manage their own forests—A national community forest law has been drafted with the help of civil society. It is sitting on the desk of the prime minister, ready to be signed. It would, for the first time, put local communities—at least legally—on equal footing with loggers.
“The World Bank needs to use its influence and get our government to sign this law," Alfonse said. Indeed, the World Bank has proven that it has the power to push through all kinds of conditions in its poor client countries—if it chooses to do so. If World Bankers are serious about helping the poor, they will simply not release any further funds to forest programs unless the government passes a law on community forests. It would be a small step for the World Bank, but a big leap forward for the people of the Congo forest.
For more information, click here.
New fossils uncovered in Argentina may belong to one of the largest animals to have walked on Earth.
- Groundbreaking Fossil Shows Prehistoric 15-Foot Reptile Tried to ... ›
- Skull of Smallest Known Dinosaur Found in 99-Million-Year Old Amber ›
- Giant 'Toothed' Birds Flew Over Antarctica 40 Million Years Ago ... ›
- World's Second-Largest Egg Found in Antarctica Probably Hatched ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›