Libreville, Gabon – In a thick tropical rainforest in a tiny country in Central Africa, a guide pauses next to an enormous tree. The Niove tree, he explains while cutting it with a machete, produces a dark red sap that appears like blood and could be used as an antiseptic to treat wounds.
After wiping the sap off his hand, Abdul Koumangye, a ranger on the Pongara National Park in Gabon, thanks the tree for allowing him to slash it and patches it back up.
“Now we have to deal with the trees because they’ve souls,” he told Al Jazeera. “We exist in perfect harmony – the trees breathe in our carbon dioxide”.
The tree is just one in every of the 1000’s of species present in the Congo Basin rainforest, the world’s second-largest one after the Amazon. Despite the critical role it plays in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, the rainforest has long been under serious threat from logging and other illegal activities.
Lots of the countries that form a part of the rainforest like Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo struggle with conservation attributable to a scarcity of funds or rebel groups.
Gabon, alternatively, claims it has preserved its natural environment with satellite imagery and environment-first policies – and a few industry insiders agree.
“Between 2010 and 2020, Gabon only lost roughly 12,000 hectares (29,652 acres) of forest which is lower than 0.1 percent per yr,” said George Akwah Neba, the coordinator of the Congo Basin Programme on the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
“We’ve seen an enormous regeneration of degraded forests because the early 2000s with several courageous decisions that set Gabon apart as a frontrunner in environmental and forest management policies”.
Using satellite imagery
This week, Gabon is hosting Africa Climate Week in Libreville, the capital.
The UN-backed conference goals to search out solutions to Africa’s climate challenges ahead of the COP27 (United Nations Climate Change Conference), in Egypt in November. Experts say that Gabon will use the conference as a possibility to position itself as a model country for preserving rainforests, which cover 88 percent of the country.
One in all the chief challenges within the Congo Basin is putting an end to illegal logging.
Dozens of foreign corporations pay corrupt officials bribes to tear down vast areas of rainforest that’s home to endangered forest elephants and gorillas. A lot of the wood will find yourself as furniture in houses within the US, Europe or Asia as corporations find ways to hide the origins.
But in Gabon, satellite imagery is used to trace down and bust illegal loggers.
“If we see suspicious activity we alert the authorities,” said Larissa Mengue, an engineer at AGEOS, Gabon’s satellite commentary centre.
After cross-checking with the federal government that the deforested area shouldn’t be a legal logging site, park rangers are sent deep into Gabon’s thick bush to work out why the trees aren’t any longer there.
Officials say that illegal mining sites are the most recent threat to the forest as a crackdown on poaching has pushed poor communities to search for other sources of income.
The commentary centre is exclusive in Central Africa and provides Gabon with pinpoint data on how its rainforests are changing. Between January and March this yr, a complete of two,615 hectares (6,461 acres) of forest were lost in activities starting from legal logging to illegal mining.
In 2009, President Ali Bongo routinely assumed office after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 42 years.
And that dynamic has created an enabling environment for widespread human rights violations and corruption in oil-rich Gabon, civil society and experts groups say.
A controversial crackdown on public sector corruption by the federal government has prolonged to the environment and is even yielding results, experts say.
“The state has worked hard to stamp out corruption within the logging sector, there’s leadership at the best level of presidency,” said Jean-Paul Obame Engone, the forest programme coordinator of World Wide Fund Gabon.
Indeed Lee White, the minister of forests, oceans, environment and climate change was brought into the federal government in 2019 after his predecessor and the vice-president were fired over a scandal related to corruption and illegal logging.
Tracking and certifying logs
Large multinational logging corporations come to Gabon primarily for the indigenous Okoumé tree which is used to make plywood, veneer, boats, decking and furniture.
In 2018, the federal government set a daring goal to be certain that all logging concessions – areas where logging is allowed – should be FSC certified by 2025. The certification, a world standard of ethical forest management, ensures that each one wood is sustainably sourced.
Although uptake has been slower than expected – the goal was initially set for 2022 – Gabon has reached 2.4 million hectares (5.93 million acres) of certified forest – almost half of the 5.4 million hectares (13.34 million acres) certified inside the Congo Basin.
The federal government is implementing a complicated QR-code tracing system to trace logs from the forest to the ports. Forêt Resources Management, an environmental consultancy, has already implemented a tracking system often called TraCer that checks the origins of logs entering Gabon’s Special Economic Zone (GSEZ), where roughly a 3rd of the country’s wood is processed.
“We do due diligence on the entire logs which come into the economic zone – it’s about a million cubic metres (35.31 million cubic feet) of wood a yr,” said Cécile Hervo, a forest management specialist. “We check for 4 things. Does the corporate have papers to prove it exists? Do they pay taxes? Have they got the fitting to chop down trees? Do they deal with the local population and civil society?”
A key pillar of Gabon’s conservation efforts has been finding the fitting balance between a thriving timber industry and protecting the rainforest.
Gabon is one in every of the most important oil producers in sub-Saharan Africa with a population of only about two million people.
After oil output peaked within the late Nineteen Nineties, it looked to the timber industry as the following big driver of job creation and government revenues. “Inside the following 10 years we must always give you the chance to construct a $10bn timber industry that creates around 300,000 jobs,” said White.
In 2010, the federal government implemented a complete ban on the export of all logs to encourage corporations to establish manufacturing plants in Gabon. Although this initially reduced activity within the sector, lots of of corporations have since arrange operations within the special economic zone, where they receive tax breaks and other perks.
“It modified the entire structure,” said Mohit Agrawal, the overall manager of the zone. “Corporations were forced to establish industries here”.
The economic park spreads out over 1,200 hectares (2,965 acres) on the outskirts of Libreville. It’s a hive of activity with greater than 150 corporations that make every little thing from plywood to high-end furniture.
Gabon is now one in every of the world’s largest veneer producers and a growing producer of plywood.
The industry is basically sustainable attributable to the incredibly selective way during which trees are logged. One or two trees are cut per hectare every 25 years, the environment minister said.
Because of its huge rainforests and small population, Gabon is one of the crucial carbon-positive countries on the planet. Its carbon dioxide emissions are estimated at 40 million tonnes every year (excluding 16 million tonnes from oil exports) compared with the 140 million tonnes it absorbs through its rainforests.
White said Gabon is hoping to provide 187 million carbon credits that could be sold or used to support progressive borrowing in the shape of green bonds. The credits are sold as carbon that Gabon has faraway from the atmosphere to investors and businesses wishing to offset carbon emissions.
Gabon will exchange 10 million credits for a billion tonnes of net absorption, overseen by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Each credit is value 10 tonnes of removed carbon which is 10 times greater than the common credit, the minister said.
The cash raised can be redirected into further conservation efforts that are critical for the world’s efforts to beat climate change.
“If we cut down the Gabonese forests we lose the rainfall in northern Nigeria, within the Sahel,” said White.
“Should you cut the rainforest within the Democratic Republic of Congo you lose the rainfall in Ethiopia and the Blue Nile, and in the event you lose that, you then lose agriculture in Egypt. For the larger picture, it’s imperative we keep the Congo Basin standing”.