Gabon eyes forest deal to boost state coffers
By David Lewis
LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon is aiming for an annual revenue boost of hundreds of millions of dollars a year by using its forests to reap carbon credits, a top official said, but any windfall will depend on this month's Copenhagen climate talks.
Three quarters covered by rainforests and part of the lush Congo Basin region, the central African nation has long exported oil but its reserves are dwindling and newly-elected President Ali Ben Bongo is under pressure to seek new sources of revenue.
Forests soak up huge amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide and a system to reward poor countries for protecting their forests is seen as a possible outcome from the December 7-18 talks to find a successor to the Kyoto protocol.
But the scope of any scheme is still disputed, in particular over how much recognition should be given to efforts to conserve forests and manage them in a sustainable way.
"At some point, if we are going to deal with climate change, you have to put the forests and the money in some sort of calculation," Lee White, Gabon's national parks chief and an adviser to Ben Bongo on environment issues, told Reuters.
Gabon has already cancelled one million hectares of logging contracts as part of efforts to impose order in the sector.
White said in an interview that independent data showed forest management policies since 2001 have helped offset the impact of emissions.
"This year, Gabon's reduction in carbon emmissions was 20 million tonnes. We could get to 50 million tonnes in five years...the forest carbon market should reward Gabon for this," said White, who helped convince Ben Bongo's long-ruling father Omar to create national parks in Gabon from 2002 onwards. Continued...