The 20th Meeting of Parties (MOP20) of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) convened June 3-5, 2024. Over 600 leaders, activists and researchers from 11 Congo Basin and partner countries met in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to share best practices and inform the collective agenda for managing the region’s rainforests. MOP20 also aimed at enabling parties to harmonize narratives ahead of the three upcoming UN conferences (COPs) on climate change, biodiversity and desertification.  

Despite being driven by a forest conservation agenda, MOP20 significantly underscored the urgency of finding the fine balance between conservation and economic development imperatives. As shown by WRI’s analysis, threats to the world’s largest carbon sink — the Congo Basin rainforests — are continuing to rise year after year. In 2023 alone, the Democratic Republic of Congo lost over half a million hectares of natural forests.  

MOP20 stressed that Indigenous people and local communities should be placed front and center of all efforts to reduce the current worrying trends of poverty, forest and biodiversity loss, and climate vulnerability. They should be given the opportunity to steer the conversation around conservation, restoration and management practices of the forests that they have safeguarded for centuries. Halting deforestation or sticking to 1.5 degrees C will work only if we drastically shift narratives.  

It was inspiring to learn how grassroots organizations influenced the recent Indigenous People Legislation in the DRC and how they are mapping hundreds of thousands of hectares of land to help their communities obtain and manage community forests. Even more, the recent progress on free, prior and informed consent in the Republic of Congo, and the gradual inclusion of forest-dependent communities in land-use planning processes across the region, are beacons of hope. These are only a few examples, within a constellation of little and unseen successes led by Indigenous people and their supporters. 

The declaration of the 20th MOP underscores the renewal of ambitions by members to protect the Congo Basin ecosystems, and to move jointly toward the next conference in Belém, Brazil, in 2025 to give the forests of Central Africa the visibility they deserve. The declaration also highlighted recommendations from the thematic sessions. 

Below are WRI’s four key takeaways following MOP20: 

1. Innovative Financing for Economic Development in the Congo Basin 

As the world’s second-largest tropical forest and the biggest carbon sink, the Congo Basin forests hold immense potential to drive economic development in the region. Spanning 178 million hectares across six counties in Central Africa, the Congo Basin regulates much of the continent’s rainfall patterns, determining the availability of freshwater and food. Protecting it is critical for the health and prosperity of the continent — and the world. But it’s impossible to do that without simultaneously improving the livelihoods of people who depend on it for food, fuel, ancestral medicine and much more. 

One major contributor to deforestation is the unsustainable production of charcoal, the main source of energy for 90% of the population. It is also a source of income for many people. Addressing this problem — and other drivers of deforestation such as subsistence agriculture — will require financing mechanisms that will foster the development of alternative energy sources as well as income. Public and private funding from both international and national sources must be mobilized to create new development pathways, away from unsustainable forest management practices and toward a low carbon, flourishing economy for the people of the Congo Basin.  

WRI’s work in Brazil and Indonesia shows that, with the right policies in place, it is possible to end deforestation, create new jobs, and a thriving, low-carbon economy. This can be replicated in the context of the Congo Basin, where the protection of forests benefits its people, including youth and Indigenous communities. 

2. Building Institutional Capacity for Sustainable Management of Forest Resources 

Weak institutional capacity and unclear roles in the forest sector are big challenges for effectively managing forest resources in the Congo Basin. The success of locally led initiatives hinges on the capacity of governments and public institutions, in addition to the private sector. Strengthening them through knowledge, research and tools can play a big role in helping Central African counties better manage their forests and land, and in enabling them to lead the global discourse on the Congo Basin. 

Initiatives like WRI’s Forest Atlases — through which we work with forest ministries to build the capacity of forest stakeholders in remote sensing, GIS and forest information management — are helping governments better manage and monitor lands.  

WRI also provides information that supports the development of national strategies on forest management through tools and platforms such as Global Forest Watch, Forest Watcher and Open Timber Portal

However, more needs to be done to get the right tools and information into the right hands, in ways that are accessible and relevant, and at a larger scale, to transform the institutional capacity of forest stakeholders. 

3. A New Narrative for Restoration in Central Africa 

Congo Basin countries committed to restore 34.5 million hectares of degraded lands, including farmlands, grasslands and forest landscapes, under the 2015 African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100). Making this ambition a reality will require harnessing the efforts of hundreds of “restoration champions”. These people, associations and enterprises across the sub-region are already restoring lands and landscapes, making the soil more productive while boosting local economies, bringing back biodiversity, helping adapt to the impacts of climate change, and increasing carbon stocks.  

Land and forest landscape restoration represent an amazingly untapped economic and food security opportunity. The project goes beyond is just planting trees. It increases the productivity of degraded landscapes, and improves many of the earth’s vital resources, such as food, water and air. It also has economic rewards: For every $1 investment, the economic return can range from $7–$30.  

As we are currently learning through Restore Local and other initiatives across Africa, this opportunity will only succeed if restoration champions have access to the right kind of capacity development programs, raise flexible and predictable finance though classic grant schemes and blended finance mechanisms, operate in an environment where policymakers collaboratively identify and address gaps in restoration-related policies, and monitor restoration efforts to enable champions to track, understand and celebrate their successes using both cutting-edge data and on-the-ground information. 

Bringing these four ingredients together is not an easy task. Central African governments can play a big role in formulating policies that protect land tenure rights, incentivizing restoration, putting risk mitigation mechanisms in place so that the private sector can invest, establishing coordination platforms where multiple stakeholders can coordinate efforts, promoting the economic benefits of restoration, and in general, fostering an institutional architecture that considers the existing socio-economic and ecological contexts to create an environment conducive for restoration. 

4. On the Road to Belém: What’s Needed Next? 

As we prepare to head to Belém next year, the people and leaders of the Congo Basin need to coordinate and amplify their voices around financing mechanisms to support their local and national economies, while preserving this unique ecosystem. At COP28 in Dubai, Brazil announced the launch of the Tropical Forests Forever fund, a financial instrument for standing forests, with contributions from countries with sovereign wealth funds and other investors. This $250 billion fund aims to encourage and compensate for forest protection, including in countries with large tropical rainforests like the Congo Basin. 

Recent diplomatic efforts, especially the Three-Basin Summit and the launch of an OPEC for the three rainforests, helped advance the agenda of a three-basin cooperation. However, a track 2 diplomacy effort led by Indigenous people and local communities, scientists, civil society leaders and the private sector is urgently needed. Grounded in science and traditional ecological knowledge, it should provide the substrata for organically building a common identity across the basins.