Central Africa’s deforestation rate since 1990 has been at the lowest of any major forest region in the world. But recently the rate of deforestation has been on the rise. The biggest threats to the Congo rainforest come from industrial logging and conversion for large-scale agriculture. Some environmentalists fear the Congo could be on the verge of a massive increase in deforestation for palm oil, rubber and sugar production.
Gabon’s Environment Minister this week drew attention to the difficulty the nation faces in protecting the Great Congo Basin rainforest unless countries are properly rewarded for their conservation efforts.
Minister Lee White told Sky News Gabon finds itself at a crossroads between allowing commercial deforestation which would be economically beneficial due to the fact it is an oil-rich nation and attempting to stamp out illegal deforestation and prevent devastating environmental consequences.
The warning from Mr White came just weeks ahead of the crucial UN climate summit COP26 which will be held in Glasgow in November.
The Environment Minister said there is a significant challenge in continuing to maintain a less than one percent deforestation rate without the right kind of agreement in place.
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The Congo Basin contains the world’s second-largest rainforest, spanning Central Africa.
This region is home to 80 million people who depend on the Congo Basin for everything from food to charcoal to medicinal plants.
The Basin spans six countries across Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
There are approximately 10, 000 species of tropical plants in the Congo Basin and 30 percent are unique to the region.
The trees located in the Congo Basin soak up an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
The Basin also stores one third more carbon over the same area of land than those in the Amazon rainforest.
But climate change is reducing the ability of the rainforest to absorb carbon dioxide.
In addition, industrial activity such as palm oil production, logging and mining, is contributing to deforestation.
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Deforestation rates in this area are on the rise, although historically they have been lower than that seen in the Amazon and Southeast Asia.
The Democratic Republic of Congo lost the second-largest area of tropical primary forest of any country on Earth (after Brazil) in 2018, according to satellite data analysis by Global Forest Watch, an initiative of the World Resources Institute.
Primary rainforest loss in the Congo Basin more than doubled between the first and second half of the period from 2002 to 2019, according to Global Forest Watch.
In 2019 alone, 590,000 hectares were lost (an area more than half the size of Jamaica).
University of Maryland researchers claimed in 2019 that at the current rate of tree cover loss, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s primary forests were forecast to be completely razed by 2100.
Data released by the University of Maryland in March 2021 showed the planet lost an area of tree cover larger than the UK in 2020, including more than 4.2m hectares of primary tropical forests.
Tree cover loss rose in both the tropics and temperate regions, but the rate of increase in loss was greatest in primary tropical forests, led by rising deforestation and incidence of fire in the Amazon, Earth’s largest rainforest.
The Democratic Republic of Congo ranked as the second-highest for the destruction of primary tropical forests at 490,000 hectares, behind Brazil at 1.7m hectares.
Primary forest loss surpassed 600,000 hectares for the third time in the past five years.
The figure rose by a massive nine percent in 2019 from 2018.
The sharpest rate of increase in this destruction was recorded in Cameroon, where it nearly doubled in 2021.
The reason for this jump has been attributed to the expansion of small-scale shifting agriculture, which is typically the dominant driver of deforestation in the region, though the full understanding of the dynamics remains ambiguous, according to the World Resource Institute.
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