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"Big Five" seek to save Congo basin forests

The world's five wealthiest countries, working with the World Bank, international conservation groups and logging companies, will provide up to US $100 million to try to save the forests of the Congo basin, the largest stretch of unbroken forest in the world after the Amazon, The Guardian UK-based daily newspaper reported from the World Summit on Sustainable Development being held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Citing a leaked background paper, The Guardian reported that this would be one of the biggest partnership initiatives to come out of the summit and would be used by governments to claim that the meeting had come up with concrete proposals.

Although negotiations between the partners are still taking place, it is understood that the US will take the lead, providing more than $60 million over the next five years, with France, the former colonial ruler of both the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, committing up to $30 million. Germany, Japan and the EC will also contribute.

The Congo basin until a decade ago comprised virtually untouched forest, but European-based logging companies have since moved in from West Africa and Asia.

The timber is exported mainly to Europe, and almost all of it is known to have been felled illegally, said The Guardian, with little or no monitoring. The scale of destruction in the Congo basin is now thought to be so serious and rapid that up to 20 percent of the forest could be lost within 15 years, with potential implications for climate control, flooding, and loss of plant species.

Last month, following The Guardian's investigation into illegal logging in the region, a World Bank spokesman said he was "horrified" at the illegality and scale of the uncontrolled felling taking place in the region.

A recent report by Global Witness, the Cameroon government's official forestry monitors, found that almost all companies working in the country had been acting illegally. Some were working in protected areas, while others were falsely declaring how much timber they were taking, and bribing officials. The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is believed to be even more serious, with up to 400 illegal concessions having being granted.

According to The Guardian, the international plan to save the Congo basin will concentrate on monitoring concessions and exports, setting up new protected areas, beefing up legislation and developing a certification system.

"However, the partnership agreement will be controversial, because it involves governments working closely with timber exporters, many of whom have been fined for illegal activities," the paper added. "As such, it will be an acid test of whether notoriously corrupt industry and governments can be persuaded to rein back on excesses."

The Guardian reported that the leaked background paper highlighted potential issues of concern, including the fact that no Central African NGOs are involved in the initiative, but was optimistic that the partnership would work.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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