Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Liberia urged to choose between logging and future climate revenue

Desperate need for income makes pressure on timber resources hard to resist for rising population


Laurence Caramel
Liberia's rainforests are being primed as a lucrative and legal industry. Electronic tags allow consumers to trace the end-product right back to the stump. Photograph: Glenna Gordon/AFP/Getty Images

Trucks loaded with undressed timber are on the move again around Buchanan in River Cess county, south-east Liberia. The dust recalls the not-so-distant time when the timber trade was synonymous with war. For 14 years, from 1989 to 2003, destruction of the forest paid for one of Africa's worst conflicts, subsequently filling the coffers of President Charles Taylor, now on trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity.

At the end of April the first ship loaded with azobe and niangon, two highly prized species of timber, left the port of Buchanan, the United Nations having lifted the embargo it imposed in 2003-6 to deprive the armed militia of their main source of revenue.

Logging in Liberia is gradually gathering speed, but the country is still on its knees. The pitiful state of much of its infrastructure is probably the forest's best friend, making parts of it inaccessible. Work is starting from scratch as all the pre-2006 concessions having been scrapped. Only a few companies have been allowed to launch forestry operations and new, stricter regulations apply. Trees felled for export must all bear a barcode to track their progress as far as the port of departure.

In a country still patrolled by 10,000 UN peacekeepers, timber is as closely watched as the diamond and iron ore mines. Last year the government registered only $2m in forestry income, according to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative established in 2007. In Taylor's time the trade was worth tens of millions of dollars.

How long can this respite last? "Look at what happened in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The forest vanished in 20 years. There is no reason why that shouldn't happen in Liberia," said Jessica Donovan of Conservation International (CI).

Liberia has almost half of the last forest in west Africa, which once reached from Guinea to Togo and is home to most of the surviving wildlife too. But pressure on the forest is growing. Driven by rising population, villagers are extending their clearings to grow more crops and collect firewood. "If the government fails to take the right decisions it will soon be too late," said Donovan. CI is calling for a two-year ban on new logging concessions.

Until recently conservationists had few arguments to persuade developing countries to protect their timber resources. Now efforts to limit climate change and tropical forests' part in CO2 capture have changed the picture. "We can say: 'Protecting nature will not cost you any money. It may even earn some'," Donovan added.

This is based on the hope that industrialised countries will soon compensate countries for not cutting down their forests, either by allocating part of development aid to combating deforestation or by setting up a market for forestry carbon credits, open to western firms.

No one can foresee the outcome of the climate negotiations but the prospect of this reward, titled Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd), has raised such hopes that none of the rainforest nations can afford to miss out.

In Liberia, CI is lobbying the government directly, with access to expert advice and funds. "Redd is our priority. It represents the future for building a development model less predatory on natural resources," said Donovan.

To neutralise the main forces driving deforestation, CI recommends slowing down forestry and boosting the creation of natural parks, which would become forest-carbon concessions. Farming should move on from slash-and-burn to more intensive techniques. Each tonne of sequestered carbon is worth an average of $5, so such policies could earn the exchequer an estimated $40m a year, about a tenth of current income.

Some weeks ago the CI report was submitted to Christopher Neyor, the Liberian president's energy adviser. He is still undecided: "Until now our economy has always been linked to exploitation of the forest. I'm not saying it's the right strategy, but when your concern is surviving from one day to the next, you do not see climate change as a priority."

Time is short and Liberia cannot afford to wait. Conservationists need to show on the ground that Redd is not just idle talk. Otherwise the chainsaws will have the last word.

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Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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