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Congo, Wildlife Works Unveil Program to Protect 9M Hectares from Deforestation

With eyes on New York last week as leaders gathered for the UN Climate Summit, a pivotal REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) program has been launched to protect forests in the Congo Basin and promote the inherent value of natural standing forests around the world.

The initiative — which is to become Africa’s largest pay-for-performance scheme — was announced Thursday by His Excellency Minister N'sa Mputu Elima, Minister of Environment, Conservation of Nature and Tourism for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Mike Korchinsky, founder and president of Wildlife Works.

Plans for the program were presented following an announcement by the New York Declaration on Forests, through which world government, business and NGO leaders have banded together to halt and reverse forestry loss by 2020, in a bid to mitigate climate change. In addition to having Wildlife Works on board, the DRC government have also partnered up with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and a range of other civil society organizations in DRC.

“The United Nations has framed the climate change problem and the Government of the DRC has presented a compelling solution,” Korchinsky said. “There is a window of opportunity right now for the private sector to join the sovereign funds and do their part to invest in our collective future by reducing the impact of their unavoidable emissions through the protection of the Congo Basin Forest.”

Presenting in New York, Minister Elima informed his audience of policymakers, corporate leaders and foundation directors that the government had completed a multi-year plan for a large sustainable development program. He did stress that the program would have to be funded through the sale of emission-reduction credits, which DRC could only attain if it managed to control and reduce its deforestation rates.

“The DRC accepts its responsibility to protect its forests for the benefit of humanity but as a developing country, for us to move from planning to implementation, we require a partnership with industrialized nations to provide the financial support needed by the program,” he said. “We hope this innovative climate-change mitigation program can become a model for the Congo Basin Forest Nations of Africa and perhaps for forest nations throughout the developing world. We believe this program can demonstrate the transformational power of REDD+ to conserve our forests for future generations while providing unprecedented green development for our citizens.”

The proposed pilot program builds upon the past success of Mai Ndombe, Wildlife Works’ sister REDD+ project, also based in the DRC. The initiative involves the protection of roughly 10 percent of DRC’s total forestry area, taking advantage of the UN’s REDD+ mechanism for protection of nearly nine million hectares of primary tropical rainforest, within a 12-million landscape (just short of the area of England). This area has more than 1.8 million inhabitants, as well as hosting a range of endangered species including the forest elephant and the bonobo (humans’ closest relative, whose habitat is limited to the DRC).

The DRC is host to more than 50 percent of Africa’s forest — amounting to 155 million hectares. The Congo Basin forest is second only to the Amazon in terms of size and relative importance. But on the flipside, due to decades of civil war and political upheaval, DRC scores lowest on the UN’s Human Development Index. As the DCR emerges from this unrest, it will continue on a path of development, which can take two routes: a path based on forestry resource exploitation or a successful protection and conservation program.

The proposed plan has received a lot of backing and support from scientific, policy and governing groups.

“The Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC is essentially the first time that we have given so much importance to forestry, and we have clearly stated that if we want to limit temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, then we will have to stop deforestation and expand forest area,” IPCC chairperson Dr. Rajendra Pachauri said. “REDD+ embodies the importance that science places on expanding forest cover and doing away with deforestation — and doing it in a manner that is market-friendly.”

Mario Boccucci, Head of the UN-REDD Secretariat in Geneva, also acknowledged the program’s significance.

“Ever since the emergence of REDD+ under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the DRC has been one of the leading countries in advancing REDD+ and moving the process forward both nationally and internationally,” Boccucci said. “Today, with this event, it proves again its leadership on REDD+ and its ability to convene a number of partners in its support. This is a tribute to the level of political will and commitment towards REDD+ in the country, a political will that the Summit yesterday sought to achieve in other countries as well. The UN-REDD Programme congratulates the DRC for its resolve and we hope that support from all partners will meet the same level of ambition in realizing the potential of REDD+ as a powerful incentive for green economic development.”

The World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility recently considered the DRC’s entry into the Carbon Fund pipeline in acknowledgement of the global significance of the emission-reduction program. Run by the World Bank, the Carbon Fund is an initiative that pays selected nations to prove they can reduce deforestation emissions with financial support. The DRC is still in contention for this fund, but even if granted access, it would still need to secure additional sources of funding to make sure the program is implemented to the level proposed.

Sovereign funds and multilateral banks have already invested billions of dollars to national REDD+ programs in Brazil and Indonesia (who are the world’s 1st- and 3rd-largest tropical forest nations) — who have the largest historical deforestation rates. As the second largest tropical forestry nation, the DRC are hoping that with financial support they can avoid the devastation observed in Brazil and Indonesia. If the DRC initiative was shown to be successful, it’s hoped that it could catalyse a spread of REDD+ programs, with the potential to both mitigate millions of tons of carbon emissions each year, and support local forest communities and ecosystems.

Wildlife Works is investing alongside the DRC Government to help design and implement the program.

“We believe the DRC Government's REDD+ green development plan may be the single most vital social and environmental initiative of our time as this program's success will prove that the most impoverished communities in one of the most impoverished countries on earth can find a way to meet their economic development needs without destroying their forests,” Korchinsky said. “If the DRC can succeed then surely all other forest nations can follow suit.”

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