A gloomy forecast hung over the rainforest nations in the waning days of the COP27 climate conference. But sunshine emerged once the Democratic Republic of the Congos’s Vice Prime Minister, Eve Bazaiba, arrived — a real-life ‘badass’ who rallied African and South American nations to raise the profile of forests and peatlands.
Her hard work helped put rainforest nations on a de facto fast track to attracting private finance, making it easier for companies to support national efforts to slow deforestation through “sovereign” carbon credits. Because those credits are issued by federal governments under the Paris Agreement, they will drive up the price and raise more monies for forest preservation and infrastructure improvements.
“The scientists have told us clearly the solution to climate change is to preserve the rainforests and the peatlands,” Ms. Bazaiba told a roundtable of rainforest representatives just three days before the conference concluded. “Those elements are essential to save the planet — to save the island countries and a country like ours, the Congo. It is important for us to have a common voice and to speak loudly. We are the owner and the keeper of these forests.”
The Congo Basin is the earth’s lungs — nature’s way of cleansing the atmosphere. If its rainforests are not maintained, the tipping point will soon come, and there will be massive repercussions. Corporate finance is critical to raising funds to stop illegal logging and provide jobs.
But the Democratic Republic of the Congo is also part of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations — an intergovernmental organization with more than 50 other rainforest nations. The vice prime minister thus cares deeply about the Global South. To that end, developing countries fought to include the REDD+ mechanism in the final agreement. Under that plan, governments account for their forest lands and set targets to stop deforestation. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change evaluates that progress before approving their performance and emissions reductions.
During the roundtable, Ms. Bazaiba wanted to know where every delegate was from — the interpersonal touch necessary to win over decision-makers. She also persuaded Brazil and Indonesia to back her efforts.
“The plan finally puts to bed years of misinformation that UNFCCC REDD+ wasn’t intended for companies or carbon markets. The private sector has always been welcome to support the efforts of rainforest nations. REDD+ sovereign carbon credits are of the highest environmental integrity and include some of the most incredible biodiversity on the planet,” says Kevin Conrad, executive director of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations.
Sun Shines On Rainforests
The goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius
In November, the UNFCCC approved the West African country Gabon for 90 million tons of emissions reductions for slowing deforestation between 2010 and 2018. During this period, Gabon legislated against deforestation and protected the habitats of endangered species like the elephants, whose numbers grew from 60,000 to 90,000.
Honduras and Belize will follow Gabon. Respectively, they will soon issue 5.6 million and 7.7 million tons of credits. Papua New Guinea will do the same in 2023, issuing 90 million tons of sovereign carbon credits.
Lee White, Gabon’s Minister of Water, Forests, the Sea, and Environment shared his experience going through the UNFCCC REDD+ auditing process, which he characterized as exhaustive and requiring multiple reviews and changes. He contrasted it with that of Norway — one of the only countries to invest directly in the rainforest nations. Norway paid Gabon $70 million to preserve its forests.
“I would say Norway’s was five times less intense, five times less thorough than the UNFCCC audit,” says White.
And getting Brazil to support the rainforest cause is a significant shift. Lula da Silva takes the presidency in January, having edged out the incumbent president, Jair Bolsanaro, who assumed the office in 2019. Between 2010 and 2018, deforestation escalated, enabling 1 billion metric tons more CO2 to enter the atmosphere than the trees absorbed. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, much of that can be attributed to forest fires and deforestation to accommodate farming.
A Star is Reborn
But Lula will prioritize the environment. He came to COP27 with all the fanfare of a modern rock star, emphasizing the need to preserve the Amazon
“The threat to the Amazon forest is a combination of climate change and human impact slash and burn and agriculture. The more you fragment the forest, the more vulnerable it becomes to climate change and efficient controls. If it is not stopped, we can expect more warming,” says Richard Betts, a scientist with the UK-based Met Office Hadley Centre, in a talk with this writer.
“Can deforestation of the Amazon be slowed? We are not past the point of no return. The forest helps to sustain its local climate. The forest maintains a wet climate,” says Betts. “The countries that emit the least are already the hottest and suffer the worst droughts. They have more extreme climates, endangering human health.”
Economic justice is urgent — to get the rainforest nations the financing they need to protect their trees and switch to greener fuels. For Gabon, revenues from sovereign carbon credit sales will go to forest preservation, paying off sovereign debt, and supporting its transition to a sustainable economy.
Belize will use the carbon credit revenues for conservation, restoration, and climate adaptation — or to adjust to economic and social changes caused by warming. The proceeds will get shared with the traditional environmental stewards and for national development. Honduras will allocate funds for furniture-making and flooring. It will also build agroforestry businesses while planting trees to restore its forest. Eco-tourism will eventually become an enterprise.
For every ton of CO2 emitted, half stays in the atmosphere while the forests or oceans store the other half. As oil dependence persists, forest-based solutions are worth more. The goal is, therefore, to manage the land and stop deforestation. As such, forests absorb 7.6 billion metric tons annually. But we must cut carbon emissions by 500 billion tons by 2050, according to the UNFCCC.
“The voice of the Global South has been heard,” says Simo Kilepa, Minister of Environment, Conservation, and Climate Change for Papua New Guinea.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Vice Prime Minister, Eve Bazaiba deserves much gratitude. More than anyone else, she outlined the import of forests and peatlands, paving the way for rainforest nations to get the private financing they need to slow deforestation. Gabon, Belize, and Honduras are the first to sell sovereign credits, which could have a cascading effect if they are fruitful. Indeed, nature now has value, providing developing nations with a potential economic punch.
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