Giant forest project in Africa seeks alternative finance to REDD
Quantum Commodity Intelligence - A giant forest preservation project in Gabon is seeking alternative finance methods than the reduction of emissions from the deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) model developed by so many voluntary carbon initiatives, its science director Robert Morley told Quantum on Wednesday.
The Grande Mayumba project developed by the African Conservation Development Group (ACDG) covers an area of 7,300 square kilometres, about 3% of Gabon's landmass, in Nyanga Province in the south of the country.
Unplanned development in the area could generate 230 million mt of CO2 emissions over the next 25 years, according to the ACDG.
Its proponents said Wednesday they are currently seeking ways to finance the project by generating Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMO) under Article 6 of the Paris agreement, whereby governments or businesses would pay Gabon for preserving the area.
The ACDG has worked on a new emissions methodology that quantifies the emissions avoided by its activities, but it does not fit any existing Verra or Gold Standard standard methods and will therefore struggle to receive financing from voluntary carbon investors.
Grande Mayumba project
The ACDG has held exploitation rights to the Grand Mayumba forest area since 2011 and, after a period between 2015-2018 when the rights were impinged on by a third party, it began actively developing the project at the end of 2019.
Current plans include the preservation of rainforest (234,000 hectares), sustainable logging (200,000 hectares), agricultural use and conservation of savannah land (210,000 hectares) as well as 70,000 hectares of co-managed community forests and some 14,000 hectares of urban development.
But the project's proponents say their current plans do not fit existing carbon methodologies, which tend to reward avoided deforestation.
Splitting the project's area into smaller blocks of uniform management would not work either, according to ACDG science director Robert Morley, as it works only for specific activities.
"It is not an approach that is holistic and looks at the landscape, all activities and the impacts on forest," says Morley.
The risks to the forest in Gabon are real, but not nearly as prevalent as in areas where forests are actively exploited for timber or to turn into cropland.
"Current VCS methodologies, and those under most schemes, are single application-focused and by design do not cater for combining different emissions reduction applications within a broader approach as reflected in the range of land-uses at Grande Mayumba," reads a project document seen by Quantum.
"The result is that highly forested nations with low rates of deforestation (HFLD) such as Gabon are not compensated adequately for having taken a leadership position on forest conservation or for implementing planned development based upon robust sustainable development principles and practice."
Threats in southern Gabon include unplanned development and piecemeal deforestation events along development corridors.
"How do you compensate countries that have maintained forest cover? The REDD+ model doesn't work for Gabon," said Morley.
Robert Morley says a possible finance avenue would be to generate carbon credits recognised by Gabon that could then be sold as ITMOs to countries or companies seeking to offset their emissions under the Paris climate change agreement.
Gabon laid much of the groundwork for this when it adopted a new climate change law in September 2021.
The law introduces structured mechanisms to measure and curb emissions at national and sectoral levels, and also provides the framework for a national system of greenhouse gas emission allowances and a National Climate Change Adaptation Plan that will be regularly reviewed.
But, for now, the proponents behind Grande Mayumba are not completely ruling out using finance from voluntary carbon projects.
"The Grande Mayumba methodology is similar in approach to the Verified Carbon Standard's (VCS) existing VM0034 methodology but has greater geographical applicability. It is our intention to work with the leading verification bodies so that the Grande Mayumba Methodology can be adopted on an open-source basis," said a project document seen by Quantum.
This would probably take time as emission verifiers and carbon standards such as Verra are busy dealing with the huge workload associated with the rise in investments into the sector, says Jane Edge, ACDG's communications director.
The project also plans to start active community engagement over the next few weeks after finalising its development plans.
At a webinar organised last week, local inhabitants said they were concerned about the development, which could curtail their ability to move around the area.
Already, recent restrictions imposed by the national park authority to fishing along the coast have prevented small fishing boats from operating normally, they say, and have threatened food supply.
Gabon is one of the world's most forested countries. Tropical rainforest from the great Congo Basin covers nearly 85% of the country's area.
It has a population of just 2.2 million, of which 850,000 live in its capital Libreville in the country's north.
Unlike some of its neighbours, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, it has invested heavily in preserving its forests.
In 2002, president Omar Bongo created 13 national parks in which logging was banned. Conservation areas have since been extended and now cover nearly a fifth of the country.
Ali Bongo, who was elected to the presidency after his father's death, banned the export of raw timber in 2010 in a bid to stimulate local processing and improve conservation.
As a result, Gabon is a net carbon absorber, with the CO2 sucked in by its forests greater than the amount lost to cutting and fires.
In 2021, Gabon received $17 million from Norway for preserving its forests in 2016 and 2017, part of a 2019 agreement to provide $150 million over 10 years.