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Predicting Future Forest Loss in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s CARPE Landscapes

The Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) is an initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), whose main objectives are to mitigate climate change and sustainably manage forests in Central Africa. As the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) economy and infrastructure investments continue to grow, it will be critical for CARPE to better understand land cover change dynamics within high-value forested areas. This study used a spatial modeling approach to identify the most important drivers of forest loss and predict the likely location of future forest loss in CARPE managed landscapes. We identified the most important influences on past forest loss (biophysical conditions, accessibility, and land management status) and predicted that approximately 332,200 hectares of forest area are likely to be lost between 2015 and 2025, with an associated 205 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted to the atmosphere.

Executive Summary

The Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE) is a long-term initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). CARPE’s main objectives are to help mitigate climate change and maintain the ecological integrity of Central Africa’s biodiverse forest ecosystems through sustainable land management. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the largest forested country in CARPE. As its economy and infrastructure investments continue to grow, it will be critical for CARPE to better understand current and likely future land cover change dynamics within these high-value forested areas.

To identify key drivers of forest loss and project the locations of potential future forest loss in DRC’s six CARPE Landscapes from 2015 to 2025, we used a spatial modeling approach. Across all six landscapes, we identified the most important influences on past forest loss— biophysical conditions (rainfall and topography); accessibility (distance to rivers, roads, settlements, conflict and areas of shifting cultivation); and land management (protected area and logging concession status)—and plotted where they are most likely to occur in the landscapes. Under a business-as-usual scenario, approximately 332,200 hectares of forest area within these landscapes are projected to be lost between 2015 and 2025, with an associated 205 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted to the atmosphere, or 20.5 million metric tons of CO2 per year, due to forest clearing.

Most of the loss (59 percent) is projected to occur within the Ituri-Epulu-Aru Landscape (34 percent), located in eastern Orientale Province, and the Lac Télé-Lac Tumba Landscape (25 percent), in Équateur and Bandundu Provinces. In its nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the 2015 Paris Agreement, DRC stated a goal to implement a 3-million-hectares afforestation/reforestation program resulting in carbon sequestration estimated to reach 3 million metric tons of CO2 by 2025. This study suggests that full protection of CARPE’s forest landscapes that prevents all future deforestation could lead to climate benefits up to 68 times higher than this. Even reducing the rate of future forest loss by just 10 percent would lead to emission reductions of 20 million metric tons of CO2 by 2025.

This study provides a foundation for the development of alternative scenarios that can be used to understand both the potential emission impacts of future planned activities, such as infrastructure projects, as well as the emission reduction and sequestration potential of CARPE’s forested landscapes..

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