In a monumental new deal, the government of Liberia has agreed to halt all logging operations within the country by 2020 in exchange for a $150 million development investment from Norway.
Though Liberia’s forests are not the largest in Africa, they make up about 43% of West Africa’s remaining rainforest and are home to the last significant populations of species like western chimpanzees, forest elephants and leopards.
Logging in the country has increased significantly since the end of Liberia’s civil war in 2003, which left much of the country in extreme poverty.
In 2012, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf attracted international criticism by approving contracts to cut down nearly 60% of Liberia’s remaining rainforest (many of the contracts were cancelled after the outcry).
Now, Liberia and Norway have agreed upon a deal that will stem the tide of deforestation in the country while also providing it with the funds it needs to continue its development.
“We hope Liberia will be able to cut emissions and reduce poverty at the same time,”
Norwegian political advisor Jens Frolich Holte told the BBC while discussing the move at the U.N. Climate Summit in New York.
For the first few years, Norway will help Liberia improve its capacity to monitor and protect the forests. In return Liberia will refrain from issuing any new logging contracts while carrying out an independent review of all the current ones.
According to the deal, Liberia also has to place at least 30% of its forest estate under protected status by 2020, as well as sending direct payments to local communities so that they have the resources to protect their own sections of the forest.
A number of researchers have connected the Ebola outbreak to West Africa’s high levels of deforestation, saying that extensive logging in the region’s rainforest put people into contact with natural reservoirs of the virus.
Ironically, Liberia (the country hardest hit by Ebola) had turned to logging to try and make up some of the costs of the outbreak, so the deal comes at just the right time.
“Our hope is that the situation there now will be contained and resolved, but we also need to give Liberia a long term hope for development and that is what this rainforest money will provide for them, a long term vision for a country with reduced poverty and reduced deforestation,”
Both Norway and Liberia are aware of the potential for setbacks with the high levels of corruption in Liberia, but the two countries are optimistic about the program.
“There is the potential for this to go wrong, both Norway and Liberia will have to make sure that this deal does not get affected by corruption, but I am cautiously confident it can be done,”
said Patrick Alley, who directs the environmental and humanitarian awareness group Global Witness.
“It’s really good news, it’s transformational for Liberia when all the news coming out of there is bad – I think this will be a real boost.”
Read the original story from the BBC here.