Rain forests still cover the vast majority of the Central African nation of Gabon—but like other heavily forested countries, it’s under pressure to cut trees down to sell timber or make room for development. A major new deal with Norway will help avoid that. The Scandinavian country has pledged to spend $150 million over the next decade to keep Gabon’s forest standing.
“Out of all the countries in the world, Gabon has hung on to the most of its forests for a long time,” says Rod Taylor, global director of the forests program at the nonprofit World Resources Institute. The country created several reserves a decade ago, has ambitious goals for zero net emissions in its land sector, and plans to keep development away from protected areas. Still, it could make money by selling valuable timber or opening up forests to agriculture, and the money from Norway provides an incentive to protect the forest instead. Norway will pay at least $10 for each ton of carbon emissions captured by the rain forest, around twice the going rate for other forest protection projects. “It still falls short of the potential returns of exploiting those forests,” he says. “But to commend Gabon, they don’t actually want that future. They want to have a forest-based economy. So this is a great starting point to give them an incentive to go that way.”
Norway has offered “performance-based forest payments” in other countries like Indonesia and Brazil as part of a national program to help curb global deforestation. Although before, the goal was to slow deforestation, Gabon is one of the rare countries that has the opportunity to save intact forests rather than focusing on curbing deforestation or restoring forests that have already been lost. It’s the kind of place that needs more investment, Taylor says. “The big picture is that hardly any of the world’s climate finance is trickling into forests,” he says. Roughly 3% of climate financing goes to forests, while forests can provide around 30% of total benefits. “Even within forests, the countries that are recovering from deforestation or attempting to restore forests that have already been lost are getting the lion’s share of the funding. So we think there’s a case to be made that the few countries that still have the last great tracts of intact forest need an incentive to keep those intact. It’s securing your best assets rather than squandering them.”