The countries of the world’s largest tropical forest basins—the Congo, the Amazon, and the Borneo-Mekong—met in Congo’s capital Brazzaville on October 26-28 with an ambitious goal in mind. The idea, first proposed by President Denis Sassou Nguesso, envisions a global coalition of countries home to 1.5 billion people and, more importantly, two-thirds of our planet’s terrestrial biodiversity for common action in the conservation of rainforests and sustainable development of ecosystems. The Summit was positioned as an enabler for nations of the Global South in addressing the global climate agenda, especially with the UN-led COP meeting ahead.
“For many, climate change is still about greenhouse gas emissions, changing weather patterns, rising temperatures and sea levels. Deforestation, however, is an integral part of the equation”, notes Nikita Panin, Expert for the Center for African Studies, HSE University. The Tropical Forest Alliance suggests that “we risk catastrophic climate and ecosystem disruptions that would aggravate hunger and conflict worldwide” unless deforestation is stopped by 2030, while the Forest Declaration Assessment estimated in 2022 that deforestation was gaining pace by 4 per cent. “Therefore, an alliance of states, whose fortunes and prospects are bound to the world’s largest river basins, seems overdue”, believes the expert. All the more so because it aligns with the goals of the 2021-2030 UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
“OPEC of Rainforests”
The idea behind a platform for coordinated action and greater influence on the international climate agenda goes back to 2011. Twelve years ago, President Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo sowed the seeds by organising the first Three Basins Summit in Brazzaville. Three commissions for the basins were soon established, with the Congo Basin Climate Commission being part of the initiative, and the Sharm El Sheikh and Kunming-Montreal agreements were signed in 2022 to enact the operational roadmap for the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. These were the steps to foster the South-South cooperation.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which accounts for 62 per cent of the forests in the Congo basin and claims a leading role for itself, has made a significant step in forging a multilateral partnership with its counterparts. In November 2022, the DRC, Brazil and Indonesia signed the Rainforest Protection Pact on the margins of the G20 Summit with the objective to launch a sufficient funding mechanism for protecting the forests. Somewhat later, at the COP-26 meeting, the DRC and the UK, the latter acting on behalf of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), signed a 10-year agreement “to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2031”, with multi-donor investments $500 million worth announced for the period up to 2026.
A Competition of Multilateralism and Trilateralism
On October 28, Felix Tshisekedi declared that the Brazzaville Summit “aimed to achieve synergies and promote solidarity between the countries of the three basins whose leadership is exercised by Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo”. He went on to say that it was the three countries that safeguard the largest reserves of biodiversity, stressing that the nations “plan to speak with one voice at COP-28”. Other states of the Three Basins—including Congo-Brazzaville—were simply referred to as “partners”.
In August 2023, Kinshasa announced its own plans to host the premier trilateral Three Basins Summit, with invitations extended only to the leaders of Brazil and Indonesia. The group, labelled in Kinshasa as the “Climate G3”, scheduled its meeting after the Amazon Summit under the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation (OCTA), which was held in Belém, Brazil, where F. Tshisekedi was the only representative of the Congo Basin. That meeting saw the elaboration of a common strategy both for the COP-28 and the Brazzaville-based Three Basins Summit.
Eventually, the only Summit held this August in Congo-Kinshasa was the Congo Basin Regional Summit on Reconciling Food Production with Biodiversity Conservation and Climate Emergency. The event was sponsored by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). The Kinshasa Declaration put the emphasis on agroecology initiatives, as well as the provision of adequate funding mechanisms, infrastructure development, and strengthening the policies and agreements on climate protection.
For Congo-Brazzaville, the anticipated “OPEC of Rainforests”, a term incidentally coined in Congo-Kinshasa, has still a long way to go. The latest Summit was mostly “an African affair”, with the two Congos virtually vying for the leadership. The Summit, however, did not see the physical presence of Brazil’s Lula Da Silva, who delivered his speech virtually. The President of Indonesia was expected to attend, too, but he did not visit the high-level meeting in the end.
Objectives & Prospects
In the Summit’s opening remarks, President Sassou-Nguesso called for “a new multilateralism” and “a common strategy to stimulate investment projects”. Fresh was his idea to raise awareness on indigenous peoples, youth and women, making this issue the main subject concerning management of ecosystems and tropical forests of the basins. As outlined by the Central African Forest Initiative, the Congo Basin is home for up to 700,000 indigenous people, with the Pygmies, an ethnic group dependent on the tropical forest, under threat of losing their habitat due to deforestation.
As disclosed by local media, the leaders have agreed on the fundamentals of a roadmap that promotes the concept of “sovereign management of biodiversity, forests and associated resources”. The Vox Congo reports that work is underway to decide on the necessary diplomatic, legislative, scientific and technological solutions adapted to the specific challenges of each state and basin.
The Final Declaration of the Summit prioritizes the need to mobilize the finances of developed countries in line with the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. The leaders stress that sufficient financing must be provided “in new, additional, predictable and adequate resources to developing countries” in order to assist the execution of national strategies and action plans. A particular attention is drawn to international trade since it must not be undermined by climate protection-related unilateral measures “used as a means of imposing arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination in international trade, or disguised barriers to such trade”.
Concerning local development, the National Oil Company of Congo (SNPC) announced on the Summit’s side lines the launch of “Eco-Zamba”, a project aimed at reforesting 50.000 hectares of savanna areas. The forest and agroforestry plantation established on the Batéké Plateaux as part of the project seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance the agroforestry industry by creating new job opportunities. The accord was signed on September 21.
“Eco-Zamba” is managed by Forest Resources Management (FRM) headquartered in France. The company operates in both Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa. The Batéké Plateaux has been chosen for the activity deployment as the FRM already occupies the site together with TotalEnergies. The French oil company and the FRM conduct the Bateké Carbon Sink project, launched in 2021 with the intention to plant over one million trees on the Plateaux.
Same issues, Contrasting financing
Despite the common goal and comparable challenges, the nations of the Great Basins hardly receive equivalent financial aid. According to the World Bank, “the Congo Basin only receives a fraction of climate finance compared to the Amazon or the Mekong Basin area”. The institution also highlights that climate and development finance needed for Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the DRC and the CAR do not match growth rates in the region.
The Central African Forest Observatory (OFAC), a unit of the African Forestry Commission (COMIFAC) estimated that the Congo Basin received as little as 11.5 per cent of international financial flows between 2008 and 2017, compared to 34 per cent attracted by the Amazon Basin and 54.5 per cent by the Southeast Asia Basin.
Essence of the South-South Cooperation
Experts note that countries of the Congo Basin should enact a conjoint strategy to confront the growing rate of deforestation. In Central Africa, common goals will hardly be achieved without coordinated action, which can be embodied in more cooperation within the COMIFAC, both on regional and international levels. “The Three Basins Summit represents an opportunity to strengthen South-South cooperation and build this alternative governance pathway. This can be achieved only if leaders effectively move away from extractive and other harmful industries and initiatives that accelerate biodiversity destruction and endangered Indigenous Peoples and local communities”, stressed Romulo Batista, Senior Campaigner at Greenpeace Brazil.
“The Brazzaville Summit played its part in putting issues of deforestation in the Congo Basin on the global media agenda—however, its particular outcome seems inconclusive”, says Nikita Panin, Expert for the Center for African Studies, HSE University. “The final declaration contains no common position ahead of the COP meeting in Dubai, with the focus placed instead on a number of broad areas, all of which need funding. This, in fact, is the main problem here, because most climate initiatives in the region are now driven with the European money.”