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Denis Sassou Nguesso

Congo can be part of the solution

By Denis Sassou Nguesso
September 20, 2009

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TOO OFTEN, Africa is regarded by industrialized nations as the world’s problem child, but on the critical issue of climate change my continent has the potential to be part of the solution. Africa not only has the lowest carbon footprint of any continent, but our natural resources contain a way out of the climate change catastrophe.

The hope in Africa is that any legislation that is signed by President Obama includes provisions that help prevent the spread of deforestation, a problem of great concern to Africa. My country, the Republic of Congo, is in the Congo Basin, an area often referred to as the world’s “second lung,’’ the other lung being the Amazon Basin. Together, these two invaluable resources represent a powerful weapon in the battle against climate change, for every day their trees convert man-made carbon gases into oxygen. Consequently, the removal of these trees is seen as a major polluter.

Scientists estimate that 17 percent of the world’s carbon emissions come from deforestation - as much as comes from all the cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined.

Carbon credit markets are one approach that could have a major impact on combating international deforestation. Forest conservation should be recognized as an eligible program for offsets. As the African Union’s spokesperson on climate change, I intend to carry this message to the UN this week.

This would allow US corporations to purchase carbon credits from the countries of the Congo Basin, thus not only helping American industry to reach its emissions targets but also protecting these rainforests.

The revenue from the sale of these credits would help Congo-Brazzaville to diversify its economy and provide alternate sources of employment such as tourism and manufacturing. We understand that the US government and others will expect to see a transparent process for expending these funds, and would welcome help to build up our fiscal capacity for handling them.

But all this could be undermined by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, which so far appears to be focusing solely on the highest-risk areas of the world, such as the Amazon. The Copenhagen process must not leave precious forests like the Congo Basin unprotected just because it is not so-called “high risk.’’

Stabilizing the Congo Basin will benefit Africans and Americans alike. Nearly 2 million acres of Congo Basin forests disappear every year due to logging, mining, agriculture, and the needs of a growing population. As these forests disappear, tons of greenhouse gas emissions are no longer absorbed, accelerating global climate change.

Countries that have been good stewards of their forests and eco-systems must be given incentives to maintain their behavior. Progress should be supported, and threats to the future need to be addressed. As more stringent forestry standards are implemented in the Amazon and other areas, timber and mining companies are likely to turn their attention toward the Congo Basin.

The six nations of the Congo Basin need to present a unified approach to this issue so that we can support the efforts of the US administration.

If a market in forest carbon credits is created, it will help to bring millions of acres of forest around the world under long-term protection. We are all connected by our shared dependence, and the people of the Congo Basin stand with the rest of the world ready to do our part to protect the environment.

Denis Sassou Nguesso is president of the Republic of Congo.

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