The news comes despite a moratorium on new logging licences being in place in the country since 2002.
The Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) aims to limit deforestation in the world’s second largest rainforest, the Congo Basin. The deal is also backed by the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Union – with Norway providing the vast majority of the funding.
Yet materials reports suggest that the country’s former environment minister Robert Bopolo Mbongeza signed documents pledging logging concessions in northern Congo to two companies.
The vast forest of the Congo Basin is the second largest tropical rainforest on earth and the lungs of Africa. Its incredibly rich and diverse ecosystem provides food, fresh water, shelter and medicine for tens of millions of people, and is home to many critically endangered species including forest elephants, gorillas, bonobos and okapis. Of the hundreds of mammal species discovered there so far, 39 are found nowhere else on Earth, and of its estimated 10,000 plant species, 3,300 are unique to the region.
But the forest, and the people and animals that depend upon it, are under threat as the unquenchable global thirst for natural resources, crops and foodstuffs means African lands are, more than ever, a target for investors. The solutions to these threats lie firmly with those who live there.
Multi-million dollar fund
The Norwegian government provided $190m of the funding for the CAFI deal, with the UK backing the agreement but providing no direct funding.
Responding to the story, Lars Andreas Lunde, the state secretary of Norway’s climate and environment ministry said his government was taking the revelations “very seriously”.
“We are working with and through the secretariat of the Central African Forest Initiative to resolve this situation with DRC authorities,” he said.
“We take these revelations very seriously, and we note that the concessions were awarded by a now departed minister of environment. We have been reassured by the DRC authorities that they will deal with this issue as quickly and decisively as possible according to their own rules and procedures.”
Around 45% of the DRC is covered by tropical rainforest, but efforts to protect the environment have been hampered by poor governance, high poverty ratesand conflict emanating over its vast mineral resources.
Back in March last year, Bopolo mooted the idea of lifting the logging moratorium in DRC, but backed away after pressure from NGOs.
The Congo Basin covers five countries from west to central Africa and has been relatively untouched for years, but the region has recently become a target for palm oil companies and industrial logging.