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Liberia: First step in halting global deforestation by 2030?

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A new partnership between Liberia and Norway aims to halt deforestation across the African country. Creative Commons: Travis Lupick, 2012

Liberia is leading the way to halt deforestation thanks to funding from Norway. The announcement came shortly after the UN Climate Summit’s New York Declaration on Forests, the first global pledge of its kind tackling deforestation.

The bilateral partnership will see Norway paying Liberia $150million over the next six years with the aim to end deforestation by 2020. The agreement includes direct payments to forest communities for protection, granting 30% of forests protected area status by 2020 and freezing new logging licenses until current licences are independently reviewed.

In a joint letter of intent both countries cited their commitment to protect and respect indigenous and local forest community rights.

“This partnership holds promise not only for the forest and climate; but for forest communities that have been marginalised for generations,” said Silas Siakor, a Liberian environmental campaigner and Goldman Environmental Prize laureate.

Liberia is home to the largest remaining rainforest in West Africa, hosting 43% of the Upper Guinean forest within its borders.

The Upper Guinean forest is a global biodiversity hotspot as well as a significant carbon sink. Globally rainforests uptake an estimated 4.8 billion tonnes of the carbon dioxide.

Despite the Liberia-Norway partnership being heralded as “transformational”, campaigners recognise that stopping logging in Liberia will not be easy.

Corruption concerns remain open, illegal logging is rife and has been growing since the civil war ended in 2003, and the country has turned to logging as a way of raising cash in difficult time.

Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was responsible for granting logging licenses in 2012 that would have resulted in the deforestation of 58% of the rainforest, as well as handing over a third of Liberia’s land to logging, mining and industrial agriculture between 2006 – 2011.

Following intense opposition many of these licences were cancelled.

Halting global deforestation by 2030

In line with the New York Declaration on Forests, it is hoped that the forest protection plan will contribute to global efforts to put the brakes on climate change.

Announced as part of the UN Climate Summit, the declaration aims to halve the rate of deforestation by the end of this decade, halt the loss of the world’s natural forests by 2030 and restore hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land.

Supporters of the global declaration argue that between 4.5bn and 8.8bn tonnes of carbon emissions per year could be saved by 2030.

Nigel Sizer, Global Director, Forests Program, World Resources Institute issued this statement in response to the New York Declaration on Forests:

Our research shows that achieving zero net deforestation by 2030 could result in more emissions reductions than removing every car, bus, and plane from the United States, China, and India combined. Similarly, achieving the Declaration’s goal of restoring an area of degraded land greater than the size of India by 2030 would generate $170 billion per year in benefits from watershed protection, improved crop yields, and forest products, not to mention bringing enormous emissions reductions.

Under the declaration countries including Norway, the UK and Germany have pledged to enter into up to 20 programmes over the next few years to pay countries for reducing their deforestation which could be worth more than £700 million.

But while the declaration has been welcomed, some organisations are more cautious and say the pledge is still missing ambitious targets, tangible actions and the strong forest laws to ensure its success.

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