Norway has committed to paying Gabon $150 million to protect its forests in a 10-year deal. The deal is part of the Central African Forest Initiative.
As part of the deal, Gabon will protect the forest from deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
African countries altogether contribute 2-3% of global emissions, and, according to data from the World Resources Institute Climate Analysis Indicator Tool, Gabon's percentage of global emissions was -0.18 as of 2014. At the time, Gabon was a net carbon sink, absorbing 9% of West Africa's total greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 due to the uptake of carbon by its Land Use Change and Forestry sector.
Forests are abundant in Gabon, covering almost 90% of the country. The forests are entirely state-owned, and about half of them are allocated for production. Timber is the country's main export after oil, and Gabon is the largest exporter of raw wood in the region. The timber industry reportedly accounts for 17,000 jobs and 60% of Gabon's non-oil related GDP.
Some of the wood sold includes okoumé, ozigo, ilomba, azobé, and padouk. Gabon supplies 90% of the world's okoumé. Okoumé is used to make plywood. Another popular wood is kevazingo. Kevazingo (African rosewood), considered sacred by some African communities, is highly valued in some parts of Asia where it is used to make high-end furniture. Kevazingo trees can also live for more than 500 years. Gabonese people consider the trees to be an integral part of the community—village chiefs and kings were even crowned under the trees. The trees are also of medicinal importance, providing medication for cysts and sexual impotence.
Much of the demand for Gabon's wood is from China. According to data from the International Trade Centre, the main markets in terms of export value for wood, articles of wood and wood charcoal from Gabon in 2017 were China (48.2%), France (14.4%), Belgium (14.1%), Italy (5.8%), Netherlands (3.8%), Morocco (3.7%), India (2.3%), Greece (2.1%), and Spain (1.8%).
Despite all the timber-related activities in Gabon, the land area covered by forests has roughly stayed constant for the last 20 years. However, the area of primary forest has been decreasing. There has also been a notable increase in logging rates in recent years. Gabon has dealt with this by banning and restricting the industry. In 2010, for example, the government implemented a total ban on log exports. In 2018, the government banned the export of kevazingo wood. In April 2019, the government announced a definite ban on 3 highly-priced wood species.
The bans and restrictions have not been so successful, and not just in Gabon. In May 2019, president Ali Bongo sacked his vice president and his forestry minister amidst a timber-smuggling scandal involving kevazingo wood which is illegal to export. Additionally, an environmental group, Environmental Investigation Agency, reported in May that six million kevazingo trees in Ghana alone have been cut down and exported to China since 2012—despite a ban—with corrupt officials forging the paperwork.
Lee White, a British conservationist who was appointed by Ali Bongo to replace the sacked forestry minister, said that the deal with Norway "will allow the government to improve the living standards of the Gabonese people by creating jobs and livelihoods, whilst also sustaining natural capital, and to preserve our natural treasures and biodiverse ecosystems."