When Gabon ratified the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the country’s real work was just beginning. The main challenge was to find ways to conserve the country’s natural environment and address the growing climate crisis, while not limiting economic opportunities for its people. Almost four years later, we have a deeper understanding of the crisis facing us, and the need to reconcile our country’s development with its climate response is greater and more urgent than ever.
Developing countries such as ours cannot follow the same development path that Western economies have taken over the past century and a half. We know the dire consequences of rapid industrialization for the global climate and environment, so we must find a different way to improve living standards.
It is only right, therefore, that advanced economies provide additional technological and financial assistance to the developing world. After all, this is the price of our shared responsibility for the planet, but climate solutions will not come solely from the West. Developing countries — including Gabon — have an opportunity to lead this transformation.
Economic growth need not conflict with environmental protection and climate mitigation. In Gabon, the government is committed to reducing national greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2025. As minister of forests, oceans, environment and climate change and the head of the National Climate Council respectively, we know that stewardship of the rainforests that cover nearly nine-10ths of the country will help us achieve this goal, but we also know that our forests and natural resources are vital for economic and social development.
How can Gabon reconcile these apparently contradictory objectives? How can we develop our agriculture and timber sectors, which are critical to enhancing food security and diversifying the economy, while also meeting our international climate commitments and protecting Gabon’s rich biodiversity? The answer lies in planning intelligently and reducing wasteful damage so that our forests and lands can serve as both a natural brake on climate change and a foundation for sustainable development.
Gabon intends to meet the majority of its climate commitment through improved forestry practices, which can reduce carbon dioxide emissions while maintaining wood production. Together with The Nature Conservancy, the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the government is launching a nationwide initiative to reduce the contribution of logging to climate change and biodiversity loss.
In 2017, we conducted a baseline study to quantify the impact of existing logging practices. Over the next 12 months, we will work with concession managers to make improvements, such as narrowing logging roads, reducing wood waste and using more low-impact equipment. We will then conduct a follow-up study to measure the effect of the changes.
The latest research shows that whereas selective logging typically damages 11 to 33 percent of the remaining forest, a well-managed forest can retain up to 96 percent of its carbon and 85 percent or more of its biodiversity. By quantifying these impact reductions, we can contribute to our shared climate commitments under the Paris agreement, as well as to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.