A new Moabi report highlights that efforts to slow forest loss in the Democratic Republic of the Congo face growing challenges from expanding mining and logging interests. The DRC government’s flagship REDD+ program, Mai-Ndombe, has seen a dramatic increase in artisanal logging permits and new exploitation mining permits have been issued in other REDD+ priority zones. Moabi's report focuses on geographic areas that are critical for reducing forest carbon emissions in DRC: the Mai-Ndombe jurisdictional program, the supply basin of forest resources to Kinshasa, eight REDD+ projects, and the US government-financed CARPE program located in six regions of the DRC.REDD+ priority areas in the DRC
Building a picture of conflict
To conduct this analysis, the Moabi DRC consortium analysed data from Congolese government ministries and national and international environmental NGOs. Data came from the time period between July 2013 and July 2015; however, data for artisanal timber exploitation represents only 12 provinces (Kwango, Kwilu, Mai-Ndombe, Equateur, Tshuapa, Mongala, Sud Ubangui, Nord Ubangui, Tshopo, Bas Uélé, Haut Uélé, and Ituri) for the period between July 2013 and July 2014. Overlaps between REDD+ activities and natural resource extraction activities were identified and quantified. Findings have been validated by a group of experts representating the institutions that provided the geo-referenced data.
Closure of REDD+ Projects
Tayna is one two cancelled REDD+ pilot projects. It also overlapped multiple mining exploration permits
Between 2013 and 2015, the pilot REDD+ projects at Mitotshi Kabobo and Tayna were stopped due to high operation costs. Difficulties in engaging local communities in the REDD+ pilot project areas may have also extended the duration of the project appropriation process. In addition, the complexity of a REDD+ project design process, low carbon prices, national law ambiguities, and land tenure insecurity remain strong constraints for the current and prospective REDD+ project developers.
Of the 42 industrial logging concessions in the DRC, 9 were found overlapping with REDD+ projects and 15 overlapping with REDD+ initiatives. In addition, over the past 3 years there has been a 7% increase in artisanal logging permits within REDD+ projects and a 25% increase within REDD+ initiatives. Within the supply basin of Kinshasa (the Bas Congo REDD+ initiative), there has been a 26% increase in the number of artisanal logging permits. If this trend continues, 305 permits will exist in the Bas Congo REDD+ initiative area by 2019.
The Bas Congo REDD+ Initiative has seen a large increase in artisanal logging permits
Overlapping mining concessions with the Maiko, Ituri, and Virunga landscapes
The past two years have also seen a 21% increase in mining exploitation permits overlapping with REDD+ projects and a 45% increase in those overlapping with REDD+ initiatives. These changes represent the conversion of mining exploration permits into mining exploitation permits, which could lead to mining activities that undermine efforts against deforestation and degradation.
Oil and Gas
Oil blocks cover vast swathes of the DRC's rainforest
The study also found that nearly all of the forests of the DRC are overlapped by oil exploration concessions, with some REDD+ projects and initiatives 100% covered by such concessions, such as the Mai Ndombe jurisdictional program. This overlap includes not only REDD+ areas but also national parks including the Salonga National Park, a World Heritage Site. This risks an extension of the same kind of conflict that has already occurred between Virunga National Park in eastern DRC and oil companies.
Mai-Ndombe Emissions Reduction ProgramIndustrial logging concessions cover over a third of the forest area in Mai Ndombe but few are active
Within the Mai Ndombe ER program, 36% of the forest area is covered by industrial logging concessions, and over the past two years the number of artisanal logging permits within the project area has increased by 29%. Both industrial and artisanal logging operators are likely to be key players in the reduction (or the contrary) of carbon emissions within the program. Critical reflection of how to integrate logging operators into the Emissions Reduction Reduction Production program is needed.
US government-funded support for REDD+ also faces conflict. Within CARPE program landscapes, artisanal logging permits represent a significant threat to efforts against deforestation and forest degradation. There has been a 19% overall increase in the number of such permits over the past two years within CARPE landscapes, with some landscapes witnessing a 50% or higher increase of permits, such as at Salonga. It is also worth noting that several CARPE landscapes are completely covered by oil exploration blocks.
Can conflict be avoided?
This study highlights the overlapping activities and conflicting goals within REDD+ areas of the DRC, and illustrates the need for greater coordination between the ministries responsible for the management of natural resources. Conflict, however, cannot be easily avoided. REDD+ continues to suffer from a lack of funding, legal frameworks, a functional safeguard system, and a sufficiently high price of carbon to compete with other land uses. Mining, logging, oil, and potential industrial agriculture all present lucrative opportunities that will likely lead to forest clearance. While many commodity prices remain low, policy makers have the opportunity to plan and implement a more comprehensive and integrated approach to land use planning. REDD+ proponents can also take steps to minimize and avoid some risks:
- Conduct further investigations within the Technical Committee of Reforms in the Ministry of Regional Development to: 1) inform stakeholders on the problems encountered and their financial repercussions if REDD+ fails, and 2) undertake a study to strengthen the role of the Ministry in charge of land management, and to improve coordination between the Ministries that influence the management of forest resources, with the goal of facilitating efforts to reduce forest carbon emissions and simultaneously generate financial benefits needed to develop the country
- Revise the rules for granting artisanal logging permits with the goal of engaging in sustainable forest management.
- Develop technical routes to explain clearly the financial and environmental benefits associated with the inclusion of REDD+ in the strategies of logging operators.