Norway has this week been rocked by revelations concerning the US $200 million the country has pledged for forest protection in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Media reports in the Dagbladet, the country’s second most popular newspaper, pointed to the irony that part of these funds could be channelled into efforts to revitalise the country’s logging industry. “It’s paradoxical to think that you can save rainforests by supporting industrial logging,” the paper wrote.
Opposition politicians in Norway are rightly questioning the wisdom of Norway’s generosity to the DRC’s forest sector. Earlier this month Greenpeace revealed how the outgoing Environment Minister had been handing out new logging permits in violation of an official ban on them. Successive Global Witness exposés have shown the corruption at play behind the scenes. A culture of back-door deals, bribes and kickbacks ensures that logging companies routinely break forest protection laws without fear of punishment. Meanwhile a small club of politicians and businessmen get rich from selling illegal timber overseas.
Criticism like this has been met with a worrying crackdown. Last year Global Witness staff who were interviewing forest communities about the impacts of logging were detained and later expelled from the country on false accusations that they were inciting a revolt.
The illegality, corruption and intimidation that pervades the DRC’s forest sector should come as a wake-up call to the Norwegian government and other donors. The Congo Basin is the world’s second biggest rainforest and one of our best weapons in the fight against climate change. It’s vital that we protect it, but we need to be sure that any efforts to do so aren’t pedalling in the opposite direction.