Why Africa's vast forests are crucial in combating climate change

Karura Forest, April 22, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

As we confront the need to address environmental challenges, the potential of Africa's vast forests and biodiversity emerges as a powerful tool in combating the global crisis of climate change.

Forests serve as carbon sinks, absorbing substantial amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The Congo rainforest, in particular, sequesters more carbon dioxide (CO2) than the Amazon and Southeast Asian rainforests combined. Astonishingly, it is the most important tropical carbon sink globally, yet the funds allocated for its preservation remain inadequate.

According to a report published by the independent think tank Center for Global Development, the Congo rainforest sequesters an average of US$30 billion worth of carbon annually. This estimate is derived by multiplying the amount of carbon sequestered by this second-largest tropical forest by the social value of carbon, encompassing the potential social, economic, and environmental benefits of avoiding carbon release.

Spanning over 298 million hectares and covering six countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo), the Congo rainforest absorbs approximately 600 megatonnes of CO2 annually. Despite its immense value, the Congo rainforest is threatened by unsustainable logging and extractive activities, which not only reduce its capacity to sequester carbon, but also result in the release of large amounts of previously stored CO2. Alarming levels of deforestation pose a severe threat to Africa's forest ecosystems and their potential for climate change mitigation.

To address this issue, innovative approaches are required to promote sustainable forestry practices and conservation efforts in Africa. One approach gaining traction is the concept of "climate-smart forestry," which integrates climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies with sustainable forest management. By adopting climate-smart forestry practices, Africa can enhance the resilience of its forests while simultaneously contributing to climate change mitigation.

Forest Landscape Restoration has emerged as a prominent approach in recent years. It involves restoring degraded forests and landscapes to their original ecological function, harnessing their potential as carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots. The Bonn Challenge, a global initiative aimed at restoring 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030, has gained support from African countries, recognising the importance of forest restoration in mitigating climate change and promoting sustainable development.

Moreover, innovative financing mechanisms are emerging to support sustainable forestry initiatives in Africa. The concept of "Payment for Ecosystem Services" (PES) has gained attention, providing economic incentives to local communities and landowners for conserving and sustainably managing forests. PES schemes, supported by governments, international organisations, and private sector partners, reduce deforestation while promoting sustainable livelihoods.

Africa's forests not only contribute to climate change mitigation but also play a crucial role in supporting local communities and conserving biodiversity. Forests provide ecosystem services such as water regulation, soil erosion control, and habitat provision for a wide range of plant and animal species. The preservation and sustainable management of Africa's forests are essential for maintaining ecological balance, safeguarding biodiversity and ensuring the well-being of local communities.

As we commemorate World Environment Day, it is crucial to highlight the innovative and transformative potential of Africa's forests in the fight against climate change. By investing in the protection of Africa's forests, we can unlock their full potential and create a sustainable future.