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Norway bumps rate to protect rainforests amid anticipated U.S. climate return

Wildlife in Borneo. Image via Pikist.

  • Through partnerships with different forest-rich countries, Norway has doubled the price it pays for cuts in carbon dioxide emissions through avoided deforestation.
  • Recent successes have come from Gabon and Indonesia, but more action is necessary as a 2020 report suggests rainforests are losing their ability to naturally absorb carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Other countries are following Norway’s example: through the Central African Forest Initiative, President Emmanuel Macron of France and President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo signed a letter of intent for $65 million to protect Congo’s forests.
  • In the U.S., president-elect Joe Biden has named former secretary of state John Kerry as his climate czar, in a sign of the incoming administration’s recommitment to and seriousness about climate action, following a four-year leadership vacuum under Donald Trump.

In its work to combat climate change by preserving the world’s rainforests, Norway has revamped its efforts by doubling the amount it pays countries to seek cleaner solutions, incentivizing them to stay away from more harmful land clearing-based industries.

The Norwegian government has pledged to pay less-industrialized nations $10 per ton of reduced carbon dioxide emissions accredited and verified under the ART TREES framework. The new price is double the previous set at $5, which is the current international norm.

Since 2008, the Scandinavian country has provided 3 billion krone ($300 million) per year for performance-based incentive programs, known as REDD+, or reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. A handful of countries have become beneficiaries of the initiatives, with hope of more to join those that have already found recent success under such projects.

“The higher price will make it more likely that political leaders in the prospective supplier jurisdictions will take a second look at REDD+ as a potential revenue stream,” said Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at World Resources Institute and a part-time consultant to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

She added, “that would help tip the balance of incentives towards protecting the forests rather than converting them to cattle pastures, palm oil, soy, or other land uses.”

Last year, the African nation Gabon, where rainforests make up nearly 90% of its territory, became the first on the continent to receive a commitment to the new price for preserving its forests. Norway and Gabon settled on a $150 million agreement spanning 10 years in September 2019.

Once independently verified, Gabon will receive its first payment under the agreement in the coming weeks, the head of the secretariat of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), Berta Pesti, told Mongabay in a phone interview.

Lowland gorilla in Gabon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

The Gabon agreement was the first with a price of $10 per ton of carbon dioxide. Now Norway has made it the new standard for its partner countries, but the small Central African nation has taken the lead as a glimmer of hope for others in the region.

The presidents of France and the Republic of Congo, Emmanuel Macron and Denis Sassou Nguesso, through CAFI, signed a letter of intent in September 2019 in Paris that would provide $65 million for the preservation of Congo’s forests. It is the third letter of intent from CAFI’s six partner countries in the region.

“These agreements are great achievements and they really show leadership in this region that faces a lot of challenges in terms of development and management of natural resources,” Pesti said.

For Gabon, the eco-friendly transition has also meant adding clean forest-related jobs to its economy and taking a more controlled approach to prevent unnecessary logging. After Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, came to power in 2009, a law was enacted that banned the export of raw lumber.

Speaking to Mongabay at the November 2019 African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in South Africa, Gabon’s U.K.-born minister for forests, water, environment and climate change, Lee White, said the country has drastically reduced the amount of unprocessed wood.

“[Gabon] was exporting 3.5 million cubic meters of unprocessed timber in 2009, and last year we harvested 1.6 million cubic meters. We are harvesting half as much timber and we are making three times as much money and have created twice as many jobs,” White said.

Outside of Central Africa, it was announced Indonesia would receive $56 million from Norway for the Southeast Asian country’s efforts at preserving its rainforests earlier this year. The payment is based on the prevention of about 11 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

While the programs being funded by Norway have shown recent successes, new data suggest the two largest lungs of the Earth — the Amazon and Congo rainforests — are losing their natural abilities to capture carbon dioxide.

A study published this past March in the journal Nature shows global forests are unable to keep up with human-induced emissions at the rate that deforestation, wildfires and land clearing occur. Some parts of the rainforests in the Congo Basin in Central Africa have become vulnerable to lower carbon uptakes, weakening their capabilities to take in carbon dioxide levels as recently as 2010.

The Amazon has shown similar trends starting nearly 20 years earlier. This comes as scientists predict 2020 will be one of the hottest years on record, despite a temporary reduction in emissions caused during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The scientists’ estimates indicate the continuing deterioration of Africa’s rainforests will cut its carbon-sequestering capacity by 14% by 2030 compared to what it could absorb in the previous decade. By 2035, the Amazon is expected to stop absorbing carbon dioxide altogether.

Disturbed tropical forest in the Brazilian Amazon. Image by Adam Ronan / Rede Amazônia Sustentável.

The dire prospects for the global environment will require a significant international policy shift, similar to what Norway has continued to implement. In the U.S., the Trump administration has largely been absent from the worsening climate crisis, but the incoming administration of Joe Biden has generated hope that it will combat the most pressing issue of our time.

Environmentalists and concerned citizens are hoping for a major shift in getting the U.S. to agree once again to the measures adopted under the 2015 Paris Agreement. Biden has hinted at a promising platform for climate change. In September, he called for the allocation of $20 billion to stop deforestation in Brazil’s rainforests, a proposal that was belittled by President Jair Bolsonaro, a Trump ally, shortly after.

In an act seen to demonstrate U.S. recommitment and seriousness to the international community, Biden nominated former secretary of state John Kerry as climate czar. The move caught many by surprise, after a four-year leadership slump that saw the U.S. abandon international climate agreements and seek to put special interests ahead.

Speaking in Oslo in June 2016, then-Secretary Kerry underscored the importance of tackling climate change and the unified commitment that is essential to combating it.

“These symptoms of high temperature and extreme weather are going to continue to get worse and worse unless and until we make a sustained commitment to reverse the trends that have put us where we are.”

Editor’s note: Mongabay receives funding from the Norwegian government’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI), but NICFI has no editorial influence on Mongabay content.


Hubau, W., Lewis, S. L., Phillips, O. L., Affum-Baffoe, K., Beekman, H., Cuní-Sanchez, A., … Zemagho, L. (2020). Asynchronous carbon sink saturation in African and Amazonian tropical forests. Nature579(7797), 80-87. doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2035-0

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