The UK must suspend funding for rainforest protection in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) until the country drops contentious plans to increase logging, more than 40 NGOs have urged.
The DRC is about to lift a 19-year moratorium on new industrial logging in the Congo Basin, the second largest rainforest in the world and vast carbon sink.
But countries including the UK are poised to commit hundreds of millions of pounds to protect the rainforest in the DRC, where half the Congo Basin lies.
In a letter shared exclusively with Sky News, a global coalition including Greenpeace Africa, Global Witness and Congolese indigenous groups have called on donor countries to make any new funding conditional on a reinstatement of the ban.
Opening up “some of the world’s last remaining intact tropical forests” to more logging would be an “unmitigated disaster for the climate, biodiversity, rule of law, and human rights of forest communities” the letter says.
The Central African Forest Initiative (Cafi), which counts the UK, Germany and Norway as donors, is about to extend a forest protection and poverty reduction scheme in the DRC, reportedly worth $1bn.
A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said the UK government was “concerned by the changes to the logging moratorium” but recognised the “challenges around implementation”.
“We will continue to work with the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo on this issue,” the spokesperson said.
Failure to act would be a “serious betrayal” of millions of rural Congolese whose rights will be impacted and of the Paris Agreement climate change goals, the letter claims.
“Your silence now would send a completely wrong message” ahead of COP26 climate change negotiations at Glasgow and biodiversity talks in Kunming, it said.
Joe Eisen, executive director of Rainforest Foundation UK and letter signatory, said allowing more industrial logging would be a “huge blow, not only to COP26 but to what many see is one of our last chances to limit the worst affects of climate change”.
Professor Félicien Lukoki from Kinshasa University’s biology department said keeping the moratorium was “vital”.
“Maintaining the moratorium would have made it possible to revisit the various logging contracts, to cancel them or renegotiate them,” he told Sky News.
DRC’s vice prime minister Eve Bazaiba said the government had “no lessons to learn about our resources from an NGO,” calling the letter “beyond daring for the 21st century”.
“We will use our resources as we see fit… We hope to leave development aid behind and instead aim for win-win partnerships, so our people can benefit from the riches of their nation.
“The moratorium will be lifted.”