The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a wealthy country but with poor prospects, environmentally. Its natural forests, making one-third of the Congo Basin’s 165 million hectares, have been hunted for its hardwood by the Chinese and other external buyers for decades. And its urban forests have been cut perpetually by urban dwellers to a point that even users are seeing an alarm, as populations expand in towns and trees disappear.
Yet, trees in the DRC are not just wood for furniture or fuel for locals. They are about a cleaner environment. For years, people believed DRC’s carbon sink could shield the country from any impact of climate change, for a good reason.
Scientific research carried out by the University of Ghent in Belgium recently, with experiments in the forest of the DRC, showed that the Congo Basin is the planet’s first lung.
“The forests of the Congo Basin store more carbon dioxide per hectare per year than the Amazon,” said Michel Baudouin, director of ERAIFT, the Regional Post-Graduate Training School on Integrated Management of Tropical Forests and Lands/Unesco).
“Contrary to what people say, this forest is not the second lung of the planet, but the first lung. It may be the second largest forested surface area, but holds the largest carbon sequestration capacity,” said Michel Baudouin.
Ecological researcher Richard Kitenge explains that air and soil pollution caused by industrial mining activities can be corrected by trees.
Mr Kitenge explained the results of his research on the towns of Lubumbashi, Likasi and Kolwezi in the south of the DRC (2 million tonnes copper produced a year and over 100,000 tonnes of cobalt).
According to his findings, replanting trees in mining areas can help reduce the impact of heavy metal residues and other chemical agents in the soil and air. This is what he calls phytoremediation or phytotechnology.
His emphasis, however, recommends simple and practical methods.
As nations haggled in Dubai at the COP28 climate change conference, the DRC committed itself to restoring the “urban forests” around Kinshasa. Kinshasa has a population of over 15 million, according to Congolese government estimates, compared with just three million in 1990. This overflow of Kinshasa’s inhabitants use charcoal for cooking.
“It’s one of the sources of energy, almost the only one, in the event of a power cut. Cutting wood is unavoidable. Replanting trees is the only solution,” said Eustache Kidikwadi, an environmental expert at the University of Kinshasa. In Kinshasa, environmentalists are already drawing a correlation between the disappearance of urban forests and the heavy rains that are increasingly falling on the city, often resulting in landslides and human deaths.
In fact, the government has launched the forest restoration initiative.
“Maintaining the DR Congo’s position as a Country-Solution to the climate crisis starts by planting trees where it is possible to do so, and by saving a tree from certain felling, by finding alternatives and substitutes to this felling,” declared Eve Bazaïba, DRC minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, in Dubai.
The DRC, like most African countries, wants the rich polluters to compensate the poor takers of their dirt, what is technically known as climate justice.
“It is time to compensate, in the name of climate justice, the efforts made by the least polluting countries, including those in Africa, to preserve the environment, in the interests of our entire planet,” said Ms Bazaïba.
The minister represented President Félix Tshisekedi at COP28.
If climate justice came through, the DRC could get at least $62 million annually, according to Stéphanie Mbombo, special envoy on climate for the president at the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai.
“The $62 million is intended to reinforce the ambitions of the Head of State as part of the new climate economy, in particular by structuring the carbon credit market. These funds will also help to protect our peatlands, which are powerful carbon sinks”, added the press release from Ms Mbombo’s office for the new climate economy.
The same source said the DRC intends to create the Institute for the New Climate Economy for the Congo Basin, which will be an essential tool for defining a coherent policy on climate change.
At COP 28, hundreds of scientists, led by researchers from Central Africa, came together to launch a UN-backed initiative, the Congo Basin Science Group, to further research the Congo River Basin and its tropical forest.
Source: The East African