Gabon’s economy currently depends on oil revenues. The country is looking to diversify to a more sustainable economy. Thanks to Gabon’s rainforests and some of the world’s tallest mangrove forests, the country has removed roughly 1 billion tons of net CO2e from the atmosphere over the past decade. Gabon’s rainforest is part of the much larger Congo Basin rainforest, which extends into Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, and Equatorial Guinea. This rainforest plays a crucial role in regulating rainfall across the African continent, a benefit that, if lost, could cause massive suffering for the Nile Delta’s 400m-and-growing population.
Gabon itself is richly forested, considered High Forest Low Deforestation (HFLD) with 88% forest cover, the second highest after Suriname. Gabon’s forests store high levels of carbon, and harbor exceptional biodiversity. They provide resources and livelihoods for rural populations and regulate rainfall. They serve as the “earth’s lungs,” absorbing carbon and mitigating climate change at the national, regional, and global scale. Thanks to strong government action implemented at national scale, many of the traditional drivers of deforestation, such as illegal logging, have been eliminated in Gabon.
Sunshine through the trees at Loango National Park in Gabon
The Government of Gabon has demonstrated strong leadership and action to protect its forests. Gabon’s government committed to the Paris Agreement and moved to reduce emissions and conserve its forest principally through three key national policies: its Sustainable Forestry Management law (2005); the creation of 3 million hectares of national parks; and a ban on raw timber exports. All its forests are either protected areas, managed production forests, or community lands, which its Forestry Ministry manages.
A Sustainable Timber Industry Creates Jobs
Lee White, Gabon’s Minister of Water, Forests, Sea, and Environment sees forest preservation as “almost a moral responsibility and a matter of national security.” Monetizing sovereign carbon credits can help Gabon transition to a more sustainable economy and provide jobs for its people.
And its sustainable timber industry is its fulcrum for job creation. Lee White underscores its importance for the future of the country, half of whose population is under the age of twenty as of 2022.
According to Gabon’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), or Paris Agreement decarbonization pledge, by processing timber locally, contribution to the national economy will be multiplied ten-fold. Sustainable timber harvesting can create ten times more jobs, with the number of jobs rising from 30,000 to 300,000 by 2030. By supplementing timber production from natural forests through afforestation (planting more trees), and carbon positive plantations in savanna areas, the country could transform its timber industry from $1 billion to $10 billion per year, all the while securing the carbon sink through forest management and controlled land use. This job creation from sustainable forestry is part of Minister White’s plan to combat Gabon’s high unemployment rate, which runs 20% on average, and steeper still among the young.
African forest elephant grazing in the dense forest in Gabon at Loango National Park
Biodiversity and Species
Within its rainforests, Gabon harbors an immense amount of biodiversity. It was named Earth’s last Eden by National Geographic. Gabon boasts three quarters of the world’s remaining forest elephants; large populations of endangered chimpanzees and gorillas; and 21 primate species, including two unique to Gabon: the sun-tailed guenon and DuChaillu’s galago. Gabon’s trove of biodiversity also includes bongos; sitatungas; leopards; forest buffalo; forest duikers; three species of crocodiles; and the world’s biggest nesting populations of leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles.
A Stronghold for the African Forest Elephant
Biodiversity has increased, thanks to Gabon’s action to save its forests. One example is the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), whose smaller bodies and straighter tusks are better adapted to moving through the woods than their non-forest relatives (L. Africana). The African Forest Elephant is IUCN Red-listed as endangered in Central Africa. Hunted principally for its ivory tusks, approximately one elephant is slaughtered every 15 minutes. Gabon has become a stronghold for these beasts, who play a crucial role in seed dispersal throughout the rainforest. Currently, about seventy-five percent of the world’s remaining forest elephants live within Gabon’s borders. Due to the large tracts of continuous forest and a concerted war on poachers waged by Gabon’s National Parks Agency, Gabon’s forest elephant population has risen from 60,000 to 95,000 during the reference period of its forest preservation.