5 Take-Aways from the One Forest Summit and Why it Matters

By Betty Wabunoha, Opia Mensah Kumah and Francis James

20 mars 2023


On 1-2 March 2023, Libreville was at the center of the forest and biodiversity world, as it held the inaugural One Forest Summit, a two-day event co-organized by Gabon and France.  Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba hosted his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron along with four Central African heads of state from the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome & Principe.  Also in attendance were the Secretary General of the Commonwealth; the Vice President of the European Commission; the Prime Ministers of Burundi, Cameroun, Chad, DR Congo, and Papua New Guinea; Environment Ministers from the Central African region, Costa Rica, France, the UK; and civil society, scientific experts and business leaders. 

The One Forest Summit was an opportunity to focus the discussion on preserving rainforests that play a vital role in the global climate system. The Congo Basin Forest represents the planet's second-largest carbon sink after the Amazon and is also home to an impressive array of biodiversity, including forest elephants, gorillas, and to indigenous communities with a vibrant culture and understanding of the forest. But they also face threats such as poaching, deforestation, illegal logging, and mineral exploitation.


The outcome of the two-day summit was summarized in a two-point Libreville Plan. First, the creation of a 100M euro fund (50% funded by France, 20%  by the Walton Foundation, and 30% by Conservation International) to finance "biodiversity certificates" for "good student" countries who have safeguarded their forests and biodiversity stocks. Second, an ambition to create 10M jobs in activities related to sustainable forest management and value chains that benefit local and indigenous communities. This includes the transformation of wood products in-country and the durable exploitation of non-timber forest products such moabi and kola nuts, okoumé resin/incense, and pharmaceutical plants such as Iboga and others yet to be discovered. 

1. The time for action is now 

“Our planet is in crisis,” said President Ali Bongo Ondimba. Nature and biodiversity are in serious decline.  We are living in the Anthropocene, where human activity is now the dominant influence on climate and the environment.  Man has become the major force of nature, and we can either be a force for good or peril. “Forests potentially represent 20-30 percent of the solution to climate change," said Gabon's Environment Minister Lee White.   “The rains generated by the Congo Basin Forest fall on the Ethiopian highlands, flow to the Nile and irrigate Egyptian farmlands.  Lose it and we lose the fight against climate change and create millions of climate refugees.  Let’s start walking the walk and take concrete action.” 

2.Academics Apply (please)

We need a Manhattan Project - type investment to better understand the forests. We need better data to understand what is changing, and more scientists to advance research and scientific knowledge on the ecological and monetary value of rainforests in our local and regional contexts. We need to invest in and train the next generation of local, national and regionally-based African scientists capable of doing rigorous research to inform the narrative and scientific messaging coming from the region. We also need an overarching coherent plan for the Congo Basin region to see what is changing. Otherwise, we are flying bind. To that end, the Republic of Congo is planning to host a "Summit of the Three Basins" in June 2023 to increase awareness of forests as a global public good and for increased regional cooperation. 


3. Making the Forest Pay

The Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon are High Forest cover, Low Deforestation (HFLD) countries with extensive, ecologically intact forests and low historical rates of deforestation.  In fact, 90% of Equatorial Guinea’s total land mass is covered by forest.  Gabon is 88% covered by forest with 90M tons of REDD+ certified high integrity, high value “gourmet” carbon credit.  It also absorbs 140M tons of carbon annually.  Carbon credits and biodiversity certificates can be effective tools against climate change and are a potentially significant source of revenue for our countries, as we transition from brown (oil) to green economies.  However, inherent inequities in the present climate finance architecture create a perverse form of incentives that seems to reward repented polluters, while exemplary countries such as ours are inadequately compensated.  The carbon market is rife with mistrust and volatile pricing.  The voluntary carbon market will never get to scale and currently ranges from $3-5/ton of CO2 -- while a more realistic price is in the $30-50/ton range.  Moreover, companies looking to offset their greenhouse gas emissions are veritably buying a ‘right to pollute,’ opening countries such as Gabon to greenwashing criticism.  “We need to create positive incentives for innovative financing knowing that it will never be perfect.  We must learn by doing,” urged Minister Lee White.  To make an omelet, one needs to crack some eggs.  Being first takes courage, and it is controversial before it becomes the new normal.  

4.Indigenous CEOs Needed

Indigenous lands make up 20% of the planet's territory, containing 80% of the world's remaining biodiversity- a sign indigenous people are the most effective stewards of the environment with vast local knowledge of the forest while living in harmony with nature. They are the CEOs (chief ecological officers) of the forest who have practiced sustainability for centuries. We must learn from and respect their role in the conservation and sustainable management of the forests. Indigenous communities need to be part of the conversation and at the decision-making table. 

5. The Little Engines That Could

HFLD countries such as the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon are carrying the load for others, as our carbon footprint is negligible. The developed world looks at carbon markets differently than us, and there is a divide between the Global North and the Global South.  The reality is, neither side can solve climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and value pricing on its own and as such, we need to collaborate.  The onus is on us to take the initiative, to do things differently, and to define our understanding of the carbon markets (and prevail).  It is time to take our own destiny into our hands and chart a better and more equitable way forward.  

The authors are UNDP Resident Representatives in Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Congo, and Gabon respectively.