Alongside the Amazon Rainforest and Indonesia’s extensive rainforests, Central Africa is home to one of the largest rainforests in the world and home to millions of species of flora and fauna. The Congo Rainforest that lies within the Congo River Basin and covers approximately 695,000 square miles has experienced the slowest rate of deforestation of any major forest region in the world. Due to its size, it is one of the largest carbon sinks in the world and ensuring it remains protected from deforestation that would release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
Due to its forest size and size of tropical peatlands within the forest, it is one of the largest carbon sinks in the world and ensuring it remains protected from deforestation that would release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere is vitally important if the world is to remain below the 2℃ ceiling set out in the Paris Agreement.
What is the Central African Forest Initiative?
The Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) is designed to protect the second largest rainforest from deforestation in an area that is developing and urbanising. There are currently six countries in central Africa that have signed up to CAFI and protect forested areas within their borders. Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Congo have all committed to protecting forests within their borders within National Frameworks that many donor countries have helped develop and invest in.
The European Union, France, Germany, the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, and South Korea are all donors and commit to ensuring better coordination and harmonisation among themselves and to mobilising resources for the implementation of national frameworks developed by Central Africa countries.
The objective of CAFI is:
- To recognise and preserve the value of forests in the region to mitigate climate change, reduce poverty and contribute to sustainable development
As we’ve seen throughout history, increasing development and urban expansion has generally led to an increase in deforested areas. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Why is CAFI so Important?
As I said earlier, the Congo Rainforest is the second largest rainforest in the world and a vital carbon sink that can slow the rate of climate change. Just last year, a peatland roughly the size of England was discovered in the Congo Rainforest and it has absorbed enough carbon to offset 20 years of US carbon emissions. Without protection, from development and climate change, the peatland would release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and could lead to catastrophic environmental impacts.
The importance of protecting rainforests and peatlands like those in the Congo River Basin can be seen in Indonesia. Huge amounts of rainforest and peatland are being cut down, drained and cleared to make way for palm oil plantations- all in the name of development. Indonesia is the fifth-largest carbon emitter by country, primarily due to the development of palm oil plantations at the expense of rainforest and peatlands and it’s vital that the countries that are part of CAFI don’t follow a similar path.
Central African Development
CAFI isn’t a way to limit or slow economic development in a region that still has very high rates of poverty, it aims to be the opposite, in fact. During the industrial revolution when a lot of Western nations developed very quickly and on a huge scale, economic development was prioritised over environmental protection. At the time, people didn’t truly understand the environmental impact of deforestation or uncontrolled emissions and the very quick economic growth experienced during the 18th, 19th and 20th century was more than enough of a reason to look away from the damage.
Now we understand what role we play in climate change and the negative environmental impacts we’re having on this planet. We must better learn to live within the environmental restraints needed to avoid the most disastrous impacts of climate change, but that shouldn’t and won’t stop countries around the world from developing. The economy and the environment aren’t mutually exclusive, they can work together, and they will need to in the future. Which is where initiatives like CAFI come in. With the help of wealthier nations, those that are developing can continue to grow and protect the natural environment and become much more sustainable countries.