This past week, Gabon made history as the first African country to be paid to preserve its rainforest. With 90% forest cover, Gabon’s tropical rainforest plays a vital role in the region and beyond. To contextualize it, the annual carbon emissions absorbed by Africa’s tropical rainforests—12% of which are in Gabon—are more than three times the carbon emissions of the UK.
The payment of $17 million is the first of $150 million from the Norwegian government scheduled to be paid under the UN-initiated Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) scheme. The initial payment is mostly symbolic, as it is only 0.1% of Gabon’s GDP.
The payment does open up interesting debates about replicability and scalability of such initiatives. The economic pressures faced by other developing countries dealing with rampant deforestation are also completely different from those of Gabon, one of the continent’s wealthiest countries. The country’s significant oil exports, its abundant natural resources, and its small population set it apart from many other African nations. Though there is significant income inequality in the country, the GDP per capita of Gabon is around $8,000, the fourth highest on the continent.
The push for clean fuels worldwide, while a laudable cause, is also one full of contradictions. Africa is the continent that contributes the least to greenhouse gas emissions, but suffers the most from the impact of climate change. Several countries in the region are at the forefront of adapting clean energy. In Kenya, for example, 95% of the country’s power on weekends comes from renewables. For most countries, their low electrification rates means that fossil fuels will play an important role in their paths to development.
While the Gabon project is a success in terms of conservation efforts, with Gabon even pitching new innovative funding models to save forests, it might not be easily replicable in other countries. Under the CAFI scheme, all investments need to be made upfront, with payments coming in later. This is not a viable option for most poorer countries, which makes this initiative just one of many the world will need to explore.
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