Sustainble Development in the Congo Basin: Moving Beyond the Biodiversity Agenda

by Denis J. Sonwa (ELP 2010 and CIFOR)

Forest biodiversity conservation has been the main environmental priority in central Africa.  The bounds between the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) seem to be strong with the REDD+[1]. Some of the Aichi targets (5, 7, 11 & 15) of the CBD and the environmental safeguards of the REDD+ (UNFCCC) are good links between the 2 conventions. REDD+ has thus emerged as one way for biodiversity conservation in the Congo Basin.

Adaptation to climate change, which seems to be closer to the development of communities, did not receive the same attention as REDD+ in the UNFCCC priorities in the region. With the support of the African Development Bank (ADB) and the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC/ECCAS), CIFOR and partners are implementing a project on synergy between Adaptation and Mitigation[2]. After the Congo Basin and Climate Change Adaptation (COFCAA), this is one of the few regional projects on Adaptation in Congo Basin.

Rural development free from stressors such as climate change is supposed to be associated to biodiversity management, with the perspective of achieving conservation goals inside and outside protected areas. Application of the 2 conventions is not happening in the vacuum. Activities carried out in these conventions through the forest sector are in one way or another links to the development process targeted by countries of the region. Countries of the Congo Basin are envisioning themselves as emergent economies in one or two decades.

Using the Rio 92 (and following Earth Summits) perspectives constructed generally around socio-economic and ecological targets, it is evident that the agenda is incomplete in the Congo Basin. The Congo Basin is currently characterized by the co-existence of important biodiversity hot spots; high forest carbon stocks; conflict and post-conflict realities; important proportions of poor, unnourished, unhealthy and climatically vulnerable communities living in remote areas with few connections to modern sources of energy, etc.


Contrary to the developed world, development and conservation has been perceived as antagonists in developing countries. For example, forest and intensive agricultural production seems to be incompatible. According to a recent World Bank report,  some of the conditions (remoteness, low funding and investment in the agricultural sector, low mining exploitation, low energy consumption per household, etc.) that contributed to keeping biodiversity and forest carbon stock in central Africa will change in the near future, with the chance to increase the deforestation. Without a strong will and a transformative change in looking outside the biodiversity sector with the means to save it, the current efforts may be in vain. It is difficult to think that the Congo Basin will be saved by the way the CBD and UNFCCC are implemented when populations are in this vulnerable situation.

The head of states summit of the Congo Basin in 17 March 1999 produced the Yaoundé Declaration translated by the Central Africa Forest Commission (COMIFAC) in July 2004 into what is known as a 10-years plan for conservation and sustainable management of the ecosystem of Central Africa. Within the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC/ECCAS), the forest sector is probably one of the most organized through COMIFAC, with the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) as a platform, and with all partners interested in the sector.

Looking at the Congo Basin with a sustainable development framework, if ecological achievement through biodiversity conservation and management cannot by itself be the catalyst for development improvement, should not be a seen (or promoted) as an obstacle to this socio-economic transformation.

The current US Facilitation will probably help to revisit the current 10-years biodiversity plan and have another head of states summit to review the Yaoundé declaration. President Barack Obama, who will receive in Washington his peers from the region, among whom will be the head of state of the African continent in August 2014, has in the past been willing to help reduce deforestation in the Congo Basin.

Beside others initiatives, all the heads of state summits to come (in Washington and in the Congo Basin) represented good opportunities to move the agenda beyond just biodiversity.  Those summits can give chances for sustainable development to become realities in this part of the world, which is considered as the earth of Africa. The dream is to see forestry (conservation, industrial and smallholder loggings, plantations), industries (agro industries, mining, etc.) and smallholder activities (agriculture, non-wood forest products management, etc.) not only co-existing, but blooming together in the earth of Africa.


Some references:

Potential synergies of the main current forestry efforts and climate change mitigation in Central Africa.

Central Africa is not only carbon stock: preliminary efforts to promote adaptation to climate change for forest and communities in Congo Basin.

Exploring vulnerability and adaptation to climate change of communities in the forest zone of Cameroon.

Rio and the Congo Basin: the unfinished agenda after 20 years.

United States is back as facilitator in Congo Basin Forest Partnership

Deforestation is low in the Congo Basin, but is likely to increase.

Scaling up sustainability: time for forestry to come out of the forest.

Deforestation Trends in the Congo Basin:  Reconciling Economic Growth and Forest Protection. Washington, DC: World Bank.  doi: 10.1596/978-0-8213-9742-8.


[1] Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

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