Brazzaville summit hosts kickoff of Congo Basin Science Initiative

Scientists have launched the new Congo Basin Science Initiative in order to better understand the nearly 2.4 million square kilometers of tropical forest that’s critical to managing carbon emissions and climate change. They hope to match the effort that has, for years, been focused on the Amazon’s rainforests.

The forests that span Gabon, Cameroon, and others are a global biodiversity hotspot, home to elephants and bonobos, with rainfall that replenishes African rivers as far off as Ethiopia and Egypt. But despite discoveries in the Congo Basin, scientists warn that failure to protect it can actually make it a source rather than a sink for carbon.

For example, research in 2017 found the Congo Basin holds 30% of global tropical peatland carbon, equal to about 20 years’ worth of fossil fuel emissions in the United States.

“The Congo basin is a vast and important area that straddles central Africa, the world’s second green lung after the Amazon,” said Dr. Raphael Tshimanga of the University of Kinshasa, speaking at the Three Basins Summit in Congo Brazzaville.

“If we can replicate what has been achieved through investing in research in the Amazon, we will be in a much stronger position to understand the threats to this unique African ecosystem not only from climate change but also from deforestation and pollution from mining and oil exploration.”

The focused research network is needed, as is funding. At the summit, scientists noted that only 11% of global funding for tropical forest protection goes to the Congo Basin. The meeting in Brazzaville is calling for $100 million investment in a 10-year program. An additional $100 million will train regional scientists.

“Central Africa needs more scientists who can monitor the forests, rivers and climate of the region,” said Dr. Stephen Lewis, a British expert on Congo forests.

Image: Congo Basin Science Initiative/Fiston Wasanga

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