Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fund to Save Congo Basin Rainforest Launched

source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/06/17/earainforest117.xml

A multi-million pound fund to save one of the world's biggest rainforests from destruction has been launched in London.

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  • Scientists say the preservation of the Congo Basin rainforest - the second largest in the world - is vital in fighting global climate change.

    Deforestation contributes as much as 35 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and every week an area the size of 25,000 football pitches is cut down in the Congo Basin.

    The UN estimates that 66 per cent of the rainforest will be gone by 2040 if the destruction isn't halted.

    The Congo Basin Forest Fund is designed to protect the rainforest by paying African governments and its indigenous people to ! look aft er it and manage its vast resources sustainably and to guarantee its future survival.

    The UK government announced it was adding £8m to the £50m it has already pledged - to help with start-up costs - and the Norwegian government announced it would contribute £50m. It is hoped that the Fund will attract donations from around the world.

    One of the first steps will be the use of state-of-the-art satellite technology to map precisely for the first time the extent of the damage caused by deforestation.

    Helping launch the Fund Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "It is a great honour to mark the launch of the Congo Basin Forest Fund.

    "Together we are pledging to work together to secure the future of one of the world's last remaining ancient forests. Preserving our forests is vital if we are going to reduce global emissions and tackle climate change.

    "I look forward to working with leaders and groups, in the Congo region and from around the world, to preserve these forests and sustain people's livelihoods."

    More than 50m people from 10 countries live within the rainforest which covers an area twice the size of France.

    Wangari Maathai, a Nobel laureate and one of the fund's co-chairs, said: " Scientists tell us we have not contributed much to global warming but the biggest effects will be felt in Africa.

    "We have been calling for carbon justice by working with the countries who have contributed to assist the countries that are going to suffer the effects. We have to meet each other half way to deal with a difficult crisis that we all face."

    Prof Maathai said the forests were also very important for maintaining rainfall and water supplies in the region and spoke of her own childhood experience in Kenya when a stream that people relied on for fresh water dried up because of intensive agriculture.

    She warned against clear cutting forest for growing biofuels or other crops, saying it would be "counterproductive".

    "Africa has to make very tough choices and she has to feed herself. But it's very important we do not sacrifice indigenous forests for biofuels or any other alternatives," she said.

    "Africa is also a water-scarce continent and agriculture is still very dependent on rainfall. Encroachment on these forests would be counterproductive."

    Former Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, also a co-chair of the Fund, said they would be working closely with all the African governments involved.

    "Nobody disputes the negative costs of cutting down the forest and that they are hurting themselves by doing it. We have to demonstrate that there are better alternatives, such as sustainable agriculture and reforestation, even in the short term, for their people."

    The Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK), which works to protect the Congo Basin rainforest and the people that live in it, welcomed the fund as an opportunity to encourage new ways of looking at forest management.

    Simon Counsell, RFUK director, said: "While all eyes are on the Amazon, the Congo Basin, the world's second-largest rainforest, is coming under increasing threat.

    "If the Congo Basin follows the same pattern as West Africa, where complete forest destruction followed timber exploitation, then the result would be a catastrophe for millions of forest-dependent people and would drive countless plants and animals to extinction.

    "The destruction of the Congo Basin forests would also have global consequences, releasing the equivalent of six years worth of global carbon emissions into the atmosphere."

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