In a US$150 million deal announced at today’s UN Climate Summit in New York, the Government of Norway is partnering with the Government of Liberia to halt the destruction of Liberia’s rainforest.  The deal foresees an end to new logging contracts, more scope for forest-dependent communities to manage their forests, and increase protected forest areas. As Liberia contends with a horrifying Ebola outbreak, this partnership will reduce incentives for Liberia to liquidate its forests for cash, and will help put the country’s shattered economy on a more sustainable path towards poverty reduction and environmental protection. The agreement is part of Norway’s plan to help cut carbon emissions globally through preventing deforestation in an effort to reduce the impacts of climate change.
"Today’s announcement by Liberia and Norway is momentous,” said Global Witness Director Patrick Alley. “For decades Liberia’s forests have been more of a curse than a blessing. Timber revenues funded Charles Taylor’s regime during Liberia’s brutal civil war. Since then the experiment to generate economic development through industrial scale logging has failed, with logging companies routinely logging illegally, skirting taxes, and causing huge damage to forests and forest communities. The proposed shift towards community management and conservation could be a profound reversal of that failed model.”
Liberia is home to 43 percent of the remaining Upper Guinean forest, which also covers parts of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. It is estimated that one third of Liberia’s 4.3 million people live in the country’s forests, with many more reliant on them. Under the terms of the Norway-Liberia agreement Liberia has pledged to:
- Place a moratorium on new logging contracts and review logging concessions that are illegal or not performing.
- Increase support for communities wishing to manage their forests, including practical training and research into new sustainable forest economies.
- Conserve 30 percent or more of Liberia’s forests as protected areas.
- Respect the rights of rural landowners, including those who own their land under customary law, and ensure that decisions are made only with their free, prior and informed consent.
Implementing these commitments will not be easy. Capacity within the Liberian Government is low and will be damaged further by the current Ebola epidemic. Logging companies still operating in the country have broken Liberian laws in the past, and continue to seek new loopholes to access Liberia’s forests.  Global Witness is also concerned that the deal could open the door to new agriculture investors, like oil palm companies, some of which have a record of felling forests and grabbing community lands. The agreement requires that new investors avoid deforestation and respect land rights. But for these protections to be enforceable, Liberia will need to adopt laws that ensure these protections.
“Over the past two years, the Liberian Government has taken steps to improve governance and is now showing real commitment to helping communities, not companies, benefit from the forest,” said Alley. “With today’s pledges and Norway’s help, we are hopeful that Liberia will continue down this path, although ultimately the proof of this deal will be in its implementation.”
The Liberia-Norway partnership will also be key to helping Liberia recover from what has become the world’s worst outbreak of the Ebola virus which, beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis, will deal what the World Bank has termed a “potentially catastrophic blow” to Liberia’s economy in the long-term. 
“Our thoughts are with the Liberian people during this difficult time,” said Alley. “Once the disease is defeated, however, Liberia will have the opportunity to rebuild in a way that benefits its government, the forests, and the populations dependent upon them – who are among Liberia’s most vulnerable people.”
 A copy of the partnership, which has been executed as a Letter of Intent signed by the Liberian Minister of Finance and the Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment, and an attendant press release issued by the two governments, will be available through the Norwegian Ministry. http://bit.ly/1yp8qom
 For additional information on the illegal logging in Liberia, see Global Witness, Liberia poised to hand forests to timber pirates, 15 July 2009, available at http://www.globalwitness.org/node/3818; Global Witness, Save My Future Foundation, Sustainable Development Institute, Spoiled: Liberia’s Private Use Permits, August 2012, available at http://bit.ly/1uVe7qf. In 2012 the Liberian Government began to reinstate the rule of law in the sector, cancelling some logging contracts and indicting government officials, see Global Witness, Save My Future Foundation, Sustainable Development Institute, NGOs welcome landmark indictments of Liberian government officials attached to illegal logging scandal but call for government to prosecute all officials and companies involved, 7 March 2014, available at http://bit.ly/1pbBQwr.
 World Bank, Fact Sheet: Emergency Response to the Ebola Crisis, 17 September 2014, available at http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/health/brief/world-bank-group-ebola-fact-sheet.