BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Already subject to instability caused by atmospheric warming, the global ecosystem faces a new climate change challenge from looming infrastructure projects threatening to damage the Congo Basin landscape, according to an environmental expert.
The region, which straddles the Congo River, spanning 3.7 million square kilometers and 10 countries, including Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Congo, contains the largest undisturbed tract of tropical rainforests and peatlands in the world. The basin is home to untold biological diversity, providing food, shelter and livelihoods for 40 million local residents, the bonobo, the endangered lowland western gorilla and the dwarf crocodile.
Now, the basin, which has been protected by an international agreement with the World Bank since 2002, is the subject of renewed environmental concern, as Greenpeace and the U.N. Environment program (UNEP) raise the alarm over the proposed construction of a massive dam and a major highway to aid mining, gas and oil explorations.
“The peatland is holding about 30 gigatons of carbon – equivalent to 15 to 20 years of U.S. emissions,” said Dianna Kopansky, a U.N. REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) program officer at UNEP who will speak at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany on Dec. 19.
“Once the peatland starts to be drained or degraded, it will start to emit – that is the imminent future – and the emissions from that will be off the map as far as the 2 degrees Celsius target,” Kopansky said, referring to the anti-warming target agreed by almost 200 countries at U.N. climate talks in 2015 to restrict global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts to limit increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Protective activities by UNEP, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and two-dozen partner organizations who form part of the Global Peatlands Initiative (GPI), include working across country borders at the regional policy level to encourage governments to enact protection to preserve the area, which is governed by the International Convention on Wetlands.
Luxury eco-tourism is being floated as one potential alternative to boost the economic health of the region while preserving the environment.
LIVELIHOODS IN FOCUS
More than a thousand delegates, including environmentalists, activists, policymakers, indigenous peoples, scientists, and country leaders past and present will attend the forum to take action on landscapes, discussing a range of relevant global concerns, including the role of the Congo forests and their significant contribution to shoring up the global ecosystem.
Environmentalists and policymakers are more readily accepting a regional, collaborative approach as a best means to address climate-related forest ecosystem concerns, a strategic aim that will be discussed broadly at the forum.
President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of the island nation of Mauritius, an expert in biodiversity and sustainable development, will speak on the role of women as custodians of traditional knowledge.
“Safeguarding this information could help create a third way between science and tradition and help towards better adaptation to climate change, for example,” said Gurib-Fakim, a founding member of the Pan African Association of African Medicinal Plants, and co-author of the first African herbal pharmacopeia.
The GLF aims to put communities first by considering all aspects of specific landscape ecosystems through a global lens, and by generating broad dialogue among all sectors concerned with the wellbeing of the planet.
The future and management of peatlands will be one of many topics discussed at the forum, which will include coverage of key landscapes themes of restoration, finance, rights, tracking progress, and food and livelihoods, by more than 80 participating organizations.
Scientists at CIFOR, which oversees the GLF, have long supported taking a landscapes approach to ensure that forests and those who rely on them for their livelihoods remain central to any discussions about the environment.
“CIFOR will be leading the GLF, but not necessarily imposing the contents,” said Robert Nasi, CIFOR’s director general. “The Global Landscapes Forum is a platform and a scaling mechanism that can hopefully also accelerate more sustainable action, more optimal practices at the landscape level because we bring everyone to the table.”
CIFOR scientists will share their latest findings at the summit.
Daniel Murdiyarso, senior scientist at CIFOR will lead a Landscape Talk on peatlands.
“Managing peatlands should be linked with a number of objectives, including those belong to the community,” said Murdiyarso, a global expert on both peatlands and mangroves. “However, the most challenging one is governance issues and associated law enforcement. These are usually related with tenure and land ownership and titling.”
Stephen Leonard, a senior climate policy analyst with CIFOR, will join a session hosted by the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development and partners on ensuring a rights-based approach to environmental preservation.
“When it comes to the idea of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and conservation of forests, which is described as REDD+, indigenous peoples play an important role,” Leonard said.
“A rights-based approach to REDD+ will be important going forward, not only for REDD+ efforts in and of themselves, but will also go a long way toward improving the livelihoods of indigenous communities and supporting the sustainability of the overall objective to reduce emissions from forests,” he said.
The German federal government supports and funds the GLF, and a German Pavilion at the two day forum on Dec. 19 and 20, will showcase many of the country’s humanitarian, environmental and international development efforts, offering a chance for delegates to learn and network.
“We are proud to be part of this vital global initiative that aims to build a movement to encourage a billion people to work towards restoring equilibrium to the environment,” said Bonn Mayor Ashok Sridharan.
The Smoke on Water session, hosted by UNEP, GPI and the Greifswald Mire Centre in the German Pavilion, where Kopansky is to speak will explore how to counter global threats from peatland loss and degradation.
GLF coordinating partners include the World Bank and the U.N. Environment program.
Erik Solheim, executive director of UNEP, will deliver his remarks alongside spiritual leader Sadhguru, founder of India’s Rally for Rivers campaign, which seeks to repair environmental damage by inspiring social behavioral change. Since the campaign to reforest India’s riverbanks through tree planting started in September, it has attracted more than 160 million followers.
Actor and activist Alec Baldwin will deliver an address to delegates by video, stating his support for the movement.
“We desperately need this kind of positive vision and leadership, and I’m proud to support this movement,” said Baldwin, who is an advocate for U.N. work on environment and sustainable development issues, with a notable focus on forests, climate change and indigenous peoples’ rights.
Indigenous leader Marcos Terena plans to call for a new kind of ecological awareness that will address environmental crises as well as humanity’s existential crises, as he sees both as equal causes of the negative effects of climate change.
“Climate change, droughts, desertification, water shortages will affect our human behavior and the behavior of powerful countries,” Terena said.