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ENVIRONMENT: New Fund Launched for Congo Basin

Tarjei Kidd Olsen

OSLO, Jun 23 2008 (IPS) - The prime ministers of Norway and Britain have launched a 200 million dollar fund to tackle deforestation in the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest tropical forest.

Launched in London last week, the Congo Basin Forest Fund will support initiatives from governments, civil society and the private sector that aim to reduce logging.

The fund will sponsor livelihood projects that seek to make it more profitable for local communities to preserve the forest than to cut it down, as well as the development of new and innovative approaches. This includes a new satellite system that will monitor the forest – which is twice the size of France and covers an area of more than a million square kilometres.

The Congo Basin rainforest is home to about 50 million people, 10,000 species of plants, 1,000 species of birds, and 400 species of animals. It covers the Democratic Republic of Congo, most of Congo Republic, south-eastern Cameroon, southern Central African Republic, Gabon and mainland Equatorial Guinea.

The United Nations estimates that two-thirds of the forest will be gone by 2040 if nothing is done to prevent deforestation.

Britain is contributing about 106 million dollars and Norway about 98 million dollars to the fund, which will last until 2012. It will be headed by Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and former Canadian premier Paul Martin, and involves cooperation with the 10 member states of the Commission for the Forests of Central Africa (COMIFAC). The African Development Bank will directly manage the largest projects as well as house the fund secretariat.

“The Congo Basin Forest Fund is a joint response to a global problem whereby an innovative and consensual mechanism has been embraced,” Maathai said at the launch.

“It involves various partners committed to preserve and protect one of the most unique ecosystems in the world, the Congo Basin rainforest.”

There is growing consensus that climate change is being caused or strengthened by human activity. Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg says that there is no time to lose if the world is to reduce emissions.

“One-fifth of the global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation and forest degradation. The Congo Basin forests alone may contain over 90 billion tonnes of CO2 (carbon dioxide), which is roughly the same as two years of global emissions at the current rate,” he said at the launch.

“To reduce total emissions the global community will have to take urgent action. A reduction of the emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is essential to address climate change.”

The fund follows Norway’s announcement that it will spend up to 580 million dollars a year on rainforest preservation for the next five years. It is also part of a 1.5 billion dollar environmental fund announced by the British government last year that will fund projects helping developing countries adapt to climate change, develop clean technologies and reduce deforestation.

The satellite monitoring scheme, one of the first projects to be supported by the Congo Basin fund, involves sending a satellite into space with a hi-tech camera to monitor deforestation levels.

The camera, which should be operational by the end of 2010, will reveal clearings and loggers’ trails that indicate the degree of deforestation. It will also monitor environmental changes and offshore pollution.

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