The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the world’s richest countries in
terms of natural wealth, yet among the poorest in terms of GDP. Forests blanket
60% of the country.
Following decades of mismanagement and two civil wars, the DRC is taking steps to
promote sustainable forest management. In 2005, with World Bank financing, the
government launched a process to review and convert old logging titles into forest
concessions aligned with the country’s new forest code.
Pierre Methot directed WRI's forestry work in Central Africa in 2009. He explains WRI’s role,
“Acting as the international independent observer, alongside our Belgian partner
AGRECO, we designed the review methodology, provided technical support, and
ensured compliance with the law. We insisted the process and results be made
publicly available and that local and indigenous populations be involved.”
Of 156 logging titles reviewed, only 65 were deemed legal for new concessions.
The remaining titles – 12 million hectares of rainforest – were set for cancellation.
“Protecting hectares is important,” says Methot, “but more importantly, this process
was transparent and involved multiple stakeholders – a first for the DRC. It sets the
groundwork for an accountable approach to forest and natural resource management.”
Russia’s forests are the largest in the world. Stretching from the Baltic to the Sea of
Japan, they encompass the last wild forests of Europe, make up the vast wilderness
of Siberia, and provide habitat for the highly endangered Siberian tiger.
In recent decades, road-building, logging, and wildfires have increasingly degraded
these ancient and previously largely intact forests. To protect some particularly
valuable forests, the Russian government used data provided by Global Forest Watch
Russia, a partnership between WRI and several Russian forest conservation groups.
Dr. Lars Laestadius leads WRI’s work in Russia. “The Russian government’s
attitude toward non-governmental organizations is very cautious, but, at the same
time, it realizes they have unique biodiversity data and maps on the country’s
forests. Using satellite imagery and field visits, the Global Forest Watch Russia
network mapped conservation values in Russia’s forests and made the results
These maps influenced the Russian government as it prioritized new areas for
protection and drew the boundaries of three new national parks. Similarly, the
forest-rich Republic of Karelia bordering Finland relied on Global Forest Watch
Russia maps and data for its new forest plan, which outlines thirteen new
protected areas and identifies future areas for protection.
Forest loss and degradation are major contributors to global GHG emissions. Yet, the
issue has not played a significant role in international efforts to combat climate change.
This is changing, explains Smita Nakhooda, a senior associate in WRI’s Institutions
and Governance Program. “Several large-scale multinational initiatives have
emerged to help developing countries reduce emissions from deforestation and
forest degradation. REDD is the shorthand for this objective, which will likely be
part of any new global climate change agreement.”
Improving forest governance – the rules and practices that determine how decisions
about forest resources are made – will be critical to the success of REDD efforts.
How will governments balance the need to maintain forest cover and the need for
other land uses? How will they ensure that the rights of forest dependent
communities and indigenous peoples are respected?
WRI’s timely and sound analysis on forest governance has been pivotal in shaping
new REDD initiatives at the UN and World Bank. “The battle against climate
change cannot be won without protecting the world’s forests, and the communities
that depend on them for their livelihoods,” says Nakhooda. “WRI is committed to
ensuring REDD programs are as robust as possible.”
Cameroon’s forests, covering more than 20 million hectares, offer a range of ecosystem services and are vital resources for both biodiversity and economic growth. But illegal loggers also find value in the forests, and illegal logging has long threatened local livelihoods, decimated wildlife, and squandered public revenue. The Cameroonian government is responsible for controlling logging activities, but a lack of adequate forest-related information, tools, and capacity has historically made it difficult to monitor logging activities.
Recognizing this critical gap, WRI launched a partnership in 2002 with Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and interested NGOs. WRI’s goal was to provide information and tools that would improve transparency, accountability, and forest monitoring — ultimately serving as the springboard for a crackdown on illegal logging. WRI developed interactive maps, data, and decision-support systems to monitor logging activities and trained government officials, NGO, and private sector representatives on their use. These systems have:
Enabled Cameroonian officials to systematically detect logging violations in protected areas and outside of forest concessions.
Empowered local NGOs to conduct independent monitoring of logging operations.
Helped ensure wood products leaving Cameroon were harvested legally, in compliance with international import regulations such as the FLEGT and U.S. Lacey Act.
As the first international NGO to map Cameroon’s forests and place accurate, up-to-date information into public hands, WRI sent ripples through the Cameroonian forest sector, making it clear that illegal logging would no longer go unnoticed or unpunished.
Fires are flaring up once more on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Media reports in the region indicate that the resulting smog has already reached unhealthy levels over parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.
In May 2010, the Indonesian president declared a new national strategy to develop oil palm plantations on degraded land instead of on forests or peatlands.
Oil palm expansion is a cause of deforestation in Indonesia. Utilizing degraded land—areas that were cleared of forests and now contain low stocks of carbon and biodiversity—is a strategy that could break the link between oil palm and deforestation.
Due in part to WRI, this strategy received significant political and financial boosts in 2009 and 2010. In December 2009, the Indonesian government and its National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS) first announced policy recommendations to support this strategy. In January 2010, the U.K committed £50 million and Norway followed in May by committing $1 billion to tackle Indonesian deforestation. These commitments will fund a two-year suspension of new concessions in natural forests, development of a degraded land database, and incentives to establish oil palm plantations on degraded lands.
Through Project POTICO, WRI helped catapult this strategy onto the agenda. WRI, and local partner Sekala articulated the degraded land strategy, built an economic business case, developed a methodology for identifying acceptable degraded lands, mapped degraded lands, and initiated an on-the-ground pilot. BAPPENAS incorporated the degraded lands strategy, economics, and a profile of POTICO into its official recommendations. We engaged decision-makers to build support for the strategy.
When Project POTICO was launched in 2009, utilizing degraded lands neither was on the political agenda nor had international financial support. Now it has both.
Influenced by WRI’s Coastal Capital: Belize — an economic valuation of the nation’s coral reefs - the government of Belize took momentous steps over the past 18 months to protect this unique ecosystem. For example, after the container ship Westerhaven ran aground on a reef in January 2009, the government decided to sue for damages—something that had not occurred with past groundings. The suit was premised on the forgone economic contribution of the damaged reef’s ecosystem services, a first-of-its-kind approach in Belize history. In a landmark decision, the Belizean Supreme Court ruled in April 2010 that the ship’s owners must pay the government ~US$6 million in damages.
In addition to the ruling, the government tightened a number of fishing regulations, including:
Restricting the size limit of Nassau groupers and banning the harvest of parrotfish;
Mandating that all fish fillets brought to landing sites retain a skin patch, facilitating species identification for law enforcement;
Banning spearfishing within marine protected areas.
These outcomes, especially the ecosystem service-based fine, are landmarks for Belize and the Caribbean region, and perhaps for other reef-rich areas too. They should help relieve threats to the Mesoamerican Reef, which underpins a significant portion of Belize’s GDP. For example coral reef- and mangrove-associated tourism contribute to 12 to 15 percent of Belize’s GDP. Reefs and mangroves also protect coastal properties from erosion and wave-induced damage, providing an estimated US$231 to US$347 million in avoided damages per year – or 20% of Belize’s annual GDP.
WRI played an important role in making these outcomes happen. In November 2008, WRI released Coastal Capital: Belize. NGO partners put our findings in front of national legislators. Belize’s Prime Minister attended the launch gala and later cited videos featuring our economic valuation results as key to his decision to approve the new fishing restrictions. Furthermore, days after the Westerhaven incident, the Belize Fisheries and Environment Departments and NGO partners contacted and worked with WRI to calculate compensatory ecosystem-related damages of the grounding which were used in court. The Supreme Court’s ruling even included verbatim language from Coastal Capital: Belize.
Canada’s majestic boreal zone stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, covering 307 million hectares of forest and woodland and another 245 million hectares of natural landscape. One of the world’s most important ecosystems, it harbors biodiversity, provides livelihoods for local communities, stores large quantities of carbon, and produces paper and timber for use across the world. While much of it remains intact, industrial activity has been invading the old-growth forest.
In response, 21 forest products companies and nine leading environmental organizations, together with Canadian First Nations, signed an historic agreement in 2010 to protect a large swath of this forest and its species at risk, such as the Boreal caribou. The Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement suspends new logging in 29 million hectares of forest land until 2013, and calls for the highest environmental standards of forest management within an area of 72 million hectares – twice the size of Germany. Additional forest will be added as the agreement broadens.
WRI and its Global Forest Watch network first put the issue of Canadian old-growth forest loss on the map – literally. We produced a ground-breaking set of maps documenting old-growth forest loss and areas of surviving intact forests. Global Forest Watch Canada’s maps were accepted as objective, accurate, and credible by activist groups, government officials, and companies. They supported advocacy efforts by explaining the global significance of the forests at stake. And they provided key data for the development of the Boreal Forest Agreement, part of an ongoing effort among environmental groups to fully protect 50 percent of Canada’s boreal forest from industrial development.
On May 20, 2011, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a two-year moratorium on new permits for use of natural forest and peatland on 74 million hectares of land - about three times the size of Great Britain. The bold initiative is the pillar of a $1 billion Indonesia-Norway partnership agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation (often referred to as REDD+).
Indonesia is the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, due mainly to deforestation. The country has major timber and paper industries and is a leading producer of palm oil, aiming to double production of the commodity by 2020. The moratorium will allow time for Indonesia’s government to review and improve national processes for issuing new permits for forest concessions.
Its operation will be monitored via a map to be published by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and a REDD+ Task Force. This will be reviewed every six months and open for public comment, including by civil society groups and the media. This openness and transparency is vital for the partnership’s credibility and accountability.
For seven years, WRI and its Indonesian partners have worked to strengthen the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry’s capacity to document the country’s extensive forest resources and concessions. WRI’s work in support of Indonesia’s new national strategy for palm oil production on degraded land has included mapping, economic and legal analysis, and a pilot project designed to divert planned oil palm concessions away from virgin forests onto nearby degraded land. This strategy provided a powerful argument for the government to use with industry in pushing for the moratorium. WRI’s forestry and climate experts also worked with the Indonesian and Norwegian governments to make data and maps related the moratorium publicly available.