Satellite system will provide an eye in the sky, but “wanton destruction” continues, experts warn
DOUALA, Cameroon (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Cameroon has set up a national system to monitor forest carbon in an effort to earn carbon cash and protect the country’s expansive but disappearing forests.
According to a 2013 report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Cameroon lost 4.4 million hectares (10.9 million acres), or 18 percent, of its forest cover between 1990 and 2012.
Experts blame the losses on poor governance and weak law enforcement, resulting in a failure to control logging.
Cameroon’s Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Ngole Philip Ngwesse, said at the launch of the new monitoring system this month that the satellite surveillance system will reinforce other government measures in place that aim to protect forests, improve their sustainable use and help the country earn added income.
“The forest carbon monitoring system is the hallmark of the plan of action by the government to not only protect the country’s rich forest but also reap significantly from the carbon market,” Ngwesse said.
$28 MILLION A YEAR?
Cameroon, which has undergone preparations to take part in REDD+, an international effort aimed at “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” could earn as much as $28 million a year from carbon markets by protecting its forests, according to Joseph Armarthe Amougou, the government’s REDD+ expert.
The country’s “REDD readiness” now “enables the country to source finances,” he said. For instance, feasibility studies suggest Cameroon could sell carbon from specific forest zones such as the 700,000 hectare (1.7 million acre) Ngoyla-Mintom forest in the South-east region.
Proceeds from the sale would be shared between the government and local communities, Amougou said.
Cameroon’s new carbon forest monitoring system will be funded by the African Development Bank and the Congo Basin Forest Fund. The trust is a multi-donor fund set up in June 2008 to take early action to protect threatened forests in the Congo Basin region.
Environment and forest experts hailed the new monitoring system, being launched in other countries of the Congo Basin as well, as a way of earning benefits from the REDD+ process to support much-needed development projects such as road, water and energy infrastructure.
“Cameroon needs to generate enough income from the REDD+ process to better empower especially forest dwellers so that they embrace a livelihood that is more sustainable and forest friendly,” said Mai Moussa Abari, country representative for FAO, at the launch.
But a recent report by WWF questions the way forward with REDD+. Over the past five years, “dozens of conferences, hundreds of papers and billions of dollars have been devoted to accelerating REDD+” but these efforts, “are not currently delivering what is required” the report said.
The report notes that potential recipient countries are struggling with the long REDD+ approval process and have no guarantee they will make any money from REDD+, while richer countries have been slow to begin handing over REDD+ money.
Abari, the FAO representative, said the new forest monitoring system will help Cameroon better see and understand how human activity is affecting land use change in the country.
The system uses satellites to keep an eye on deforestation. It will work hand-in-hand with the national forest inventory unit of the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, Ngwesse said.
The system will allow better monitoring and verification of forest protection – key to proving that forest is still standing and allowing Cameroon to win carbon cash. So-called “avoided deforestation” – the amount of greenhouse gases not emitted as a result of deforestation and forest degradation – can be turned into carbon market credits, Joseph Armathe, who also works on Clean Development Mechanism projects for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told Thomson Reuters.
The method is being applied by countries of the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) as part of a recently drafted framework on monitoring and verifying forests for the Congo Basin zone, he said.
“Data collected will also assist national policy makers in reaching informed decisions on the REDD + process,” Armathe said.
According to Achille Momo, a national expert on the monitoring and verification project under the UN-REDD Programme, the forest monitoring system should start by the end of 2014.
The Central African Forest Commission was established in 2005 to act as a regional forum for the conservation and sustainable joint management of forest ecosystems in Central Africa. Country members include Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Chad, Burundi, Sao Tomé and Rwanda.
The new system will join other forest monitoring system earlier put in place by the Cameroon government.
In 2012 Cameroon joined the Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo and Central African Republic in an agreement with the French government and geo-information provider Astrium Services to better protect the fast disappearing Congo Basin Forest using another satellite monitoring system.
NEED FOR STRONGER LAWS
But Teodyl Nkuintchua of the Centre for Environment and Development, a Cameroon-based non-governmental organisation, said the government also clearly needs to improve on the laws governing forest exploitation in the country.
“Cameroon needs to seriously reinforce its forestry laws to curb wanton destruction and protect the rights of forest communities. The failure to control abuses will not yield any better results, no matter the good intentions behind reforms already taken,” Teodyl warned.
The FAO, however, says that monitoring is one of the most effective methods of preventing forest crime.
According to an FAO report, close monitoring has drastically slowed forest deforestation in countries like Brazil.
The report says remote monitoring can be used to direct limited number of inspectors on the ground to areas where they need to verify the reliability of reporting by loggers.
As well, “inspections must be allowed on a routine basis, not just when a crime is suspected,” the report stated.
Elias Ntungwe Ngalame is a Cameroon-based freelance writer with an interest in climate change, environmental and governance issues.
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