World leaders must take action on Congo agreement

African heads of state and French President Jacques Chirac have jointly pledged to protect the Congo Basin's forests at the Brazzaville Forest Summit this week.

However, African governments and the international community made the same statement at a ministerial conference in Cameroon, October 2003, and without doubting their good intentions, environmental group Greenpeace has voiced its continuing concern that these words may still not be followed by solid actions.

"The time for talk is over. If we are to save the great forests of the Congo Basin, Africa needs actions, not words," head of Greenpeace's international political unit Jean-Luc Roux warned.

Despite the new agreement, Mr Roux confirmed that Greenpeace would intensify its campaign over the coming months to get countries of the G8 and European Union to move from declarations to action and intensify efforts to promote transparency, fight corruption and clean up the African timber trade.

Corruption and a lack of political will have repeatedly been cited as the principle obstacles to protecting the Congo Basin's forest resources.

According to Mr Roux, illegal logging is widespread in the area and often takes place with complete impunity. It also causes great damage to fragile ecosystems and brings widespread social conflicts, while also causing significant costs to state treasuries.

Most of the African timber that ends up on the international market, half of which is sold in the EU, is sold with no guarantee of legality or sustainability.

Director of WWF for Africa and Madagascar, Dr Richard Carroll, agreed that the people of Central Africa - from the indigenous groups living in the rainforests to the heads of state - needed the full support of the international community to help them protect this globally important natural heritage.

"There has never been a time in history when so much attention, money and commitment to conservation has been focussed on Central Africa's forests, its indigenous people and the brave park guards who have protected its wildlife," he stated.

"Leaders need to be eternally vigilant because each year the Congo Basin loses an area larger than Connecticut, and poaching, smuggling and the illicit bushmeat trade continue to decimate wildlife populations."

He added that bold measures needed to be taken, and political decisions needed to be followed up with robust funding in order for conservation efforts to succeed.

Along with other environmental groups, Greenpeace says leaders urgently need to support political reform and capacity building in the forestry sector, with the active involvement of civil society.

"Poor governance and lack of transparency need to be tackled as a priority to reduce poverty in the Congo Basin and protect and manage its forests in a sustainable manner," Mr Roux urged.

By Jane Kettle



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