Remarks at the 16th Meeting of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership

Daniel A. Reifsnyder
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Kigali, Rwanda
November 24, 2016

Minister Biruta, Minister Matondo, Madame Di Mauro, Executive Secretary Mbiticom, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen -- it is a pleasure to be with you once again in this beautiful country and region.

Origin and Goal of the CBFP

In preparing to come to Kigali for this meeting, I reflected on the name and origin of the effort in which we are here engaged – the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. It began in 2002 in Johannesburg as an outgrowth of the Conference on Sustainable Development, following up on the Rio Summit in `1992. Its focus is not on one country but on the entire Congo Basin. Why? Because this region, together with the forests of the Amazon and those of Indonesia, is one of the three great lungs of the world. Its focus is also, perhaps naturally, on the forests of the region because they provide essential services and an economic foundation for stability and prosperity throughout the region. And it is a “partnership” of countries and organizations from outside the region with countries and organizations in the region – all of whom share an interest in the protecting the forests and promoting their sustainable use. The United States has strongly supported the Congo Basin Forest Partnership for nearly 15 years, and we look forward to our continued engagement.

Passing the Reins to the European Union

Last year, the United States concluded its second term as CBFP Facilitator and passed the reins to the European Union (EU). We were fully confident of the EU’s commitment to partner with and empower African governments, institutions, and communities to promote sustainable natural resource management in the Congo Basin. And as we gather at the first Meeting of Partners hosted by the EU, I applaud Mr. Anders Henriksson and Ms. Francesca Di Mauro for taking on the facilitation. I also commend them for bringing fresh ideas and proposals for improving our cooperation and coordination at all levels. We fully share their vision that the facilitation should be a shared, collective effort.

Dynamic and Heartening Developments in Global Environmental Protection

Both this year and last, there have been a number of heartening developments related to our common efforts to protect the global environment. First among them perhaps is the Paris Agreement adopted last December. In signing onto the Paris Agreement, each of us has recognized the vital role that forests play in tackling climate change. Indeed, forests feature prominently in our Nationally Determined Contributions. Also last year, we adopted the Sustainable Development Goals that clearly reflect the importance of forests and link them to other key issues such as poverty alleviation, food security and clean water.

And just last month, negotiators from over 179 countries met in this very Convention Center and reached agreement on the historic “Kigali Amendment” to the Montreal Protocol. That amendment calls for phasing down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and creates an opportunity to avoid as much as half a degree Centigrade of global warming by the end of this century. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the U.S. Delegation here, called it a “monumental step forward.” Let me also commend Rwanda for hosting that meeting and for mainstreaming green growth into its development strategy, including through impressive eco-tourism and conservation in the country’s national parks. Having joined the Paris Agreement in October, Rwanda is already serving as a regional leader by preparing to implement its Nationally Determined Contribution.


U.S. Engagement in the Congo Basin

With your indulgence, I would like to discuss a number of the key ways that the United States is working in the Congo Basin to support the goals of this partnership.

In 1995, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) established the Central African Regional Program for the Environment, or CARPE, as a 25-year program to support Central Africa’s transition to secure wildlife populations, sustainably managed biodiverse forests, and low-emissions development. Since the CBFP was established, CARPE has been the major contribution from the United States, including $90 million for wildlife and forest conservation in just the last two fiscal years.

Through CARPE, USAID has championed the use of cutting edge technologies based on remote sensing and using U.S. Landsat imagery as decision making tools for forest management in the Congo Basin. In collaboration with National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the University of Maryland, the World Resources Institute and the Observatoire Satellital des Forets d'Afrique Centrale based in the DRC, USAID has built an impressive system of online remote sensing databases and analysis tools. These tools are available to governments, NGOs, and civil society, and are invaluable in planning and monitoring REDD+ interventions. They allow measurements of forest cover, carbon sequestration, and land use intensity. In the last year, this collaboration launched a system of near-real time forest disturbance alerts for the Republic of the Congo, which will soon be expanded to other countries. These provide weekly satellite coverage of forested areas, and provide timely alerts on where deforestation is occurring.

Over the past year, through significant USAID funding and U.S. Forest Service implementation, the United States also helped Congo Basin countries design forest inventory and monitoring systems critical for sustainable development, biodiversity protection, and climate change objectives. USAID has also supported the adoption of techniques and technologies that reduce deforestation in communities across the Congo Basin, including -- in the DRC alone -- over 3,000 cocoa producers in the Ituri forest and 80 community associations in North Kivu producing and selling fuel-efficient cook-stoves.

The United States also contributes to multilateral funds like the Forest Investment Program (FIP) and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). We are pleased to recognize that the DRC earlier this year joined Costa Rica as the first two countries to receive funding for results-based REDD+ programs. This is an important achievement as it shows that the DRC and other countries are making progress toward designing national strategies to prevent deforestation, implement social and environmental safeguards, and then put in place the monitoring systems to verify reduced deforestation, and the greenhouse gas emissions that result.

The U.S. Department of State, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice, conducts capacity building and outreach to increase awareness and coordination with international law enforcement counterparts, including police, military, forest and wildlife personnel, prosecutors and judges regarding U.S. Lacey Act provisions, a wildlife and plant protection statute. In May, using Lacey Act funds, the Department of Justice, together with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and U.S. Customs, presented a regional law enforcement training on illegal logging, with 40 attendees from four CBFP countries – we are working now to identify our next partner in the region for additional training in 2017.

CBPF Embrace of Issues beyond Forest Protection

The CBFP has served as a platform to continue a conversation between a broad range of partners -- including Central African countries, donors, NGOs and civil society -- on how to best address wildlife trafficking, conservation, and development challenges in the context of heightened insecurity in the DRC-CAR-South Sudan-Chad corridor. Colleagues present met just last month and again this week to advance this dialogue. We expect to continue this engagement, as well as in other areas, through our CBFP partners working to increase law enforcement capacity, strengthen legislation, build consumer awareness, enhance cooperation, and share information essential to tracking and disrupting illegal operations, including timber and wildlife trafficking.

U.S. Efforts to Address the Threat of Wildlife Trafficking

The United States continues to prioritize action against wildlife crime, through its interagency Task Force for Combating Wildlife Trafficking and the development of new legislation, such as the bipartisan Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act signed by President Obama in October.

The United States spends more to address poaching and wildlife trafficking in Central Africa than any region worldwide. USAID fiscal year 2015 funds supported $67 million in programs addressing wildlife crime, with nearly a third focused on strengthening park patrols, interagency cooperation and intelligence-led enforcement in Central Africa; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has built more than $85 million in programs to secure wildlife and develop capacity; and the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in partnership with the Department of Justice has provided approximately $200,000 in prosecutorial training to Central and Southern African countries.

Our objectives are ambitious but our impact is tangible. In the past year, patrols supported by the United States covered a distance of at least 170,000 km - that's over four times around the circumference of the globe. In Gabon’s Wonga-Wongue Presidential Reserve, we helped eliminate elephant poaching in a single year through improved law enforcement with direct government-to-government support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Gabon’s National Parks Agency, ANPN. Building on lessons learned, ANPN is developing a model parks approach to replicate success throughout its protected areas, including through its Gabon Bleu program for the effective management of coastal and marine resources. And in the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of the Congo, one of the last major strongholds of elephants in Central Africa, USAID and Fish and Wildlife Service support helped keep elephant poaching to a minimum.

When the Last Great Ape organization (LAGA) first started operating in Cameroon in 2003, there had been no known arrests or prosecutions for wildlife crimes in Central or West Africa. Through a unique model that provides non-governmental support in wildlife law enforcement to government agencies, LAGA was able to help turn this around within less than a year. Today, it serves as a model for the EAGLE Network –a government and law enforcement platform to fight wildlife crime and corruption -- that is now operating in nine countries across Africa, where it has helped achieve more than 1,200 arrests and 900 convictions of wildlife traffickers, supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USAID and other donors.

In the DRC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with CARPE and private donor support, established the country’s first new national park in more than 40 years. The new Lomami National Park provides critical habitat for threatened and endangered species, including okapi, forest elephants, Congo peacocks, bonobos, and the lesula, a monkey first discovered in 2007 and later confirmed as a new species in 2012. The conservation effort in the park will also improve resource tenure rights, and well-regulated community hunting zones for villages in the park’s buffer zone to re-establish traditional use of forest resources by local residents so as to limit overhunting by outside and criminal poachers. Lomami National Park, and the management of its buffer zone, exemplifies the landscape scale, participatory approach fostered by the United States across the region, where the interests of local people are fully integrated into conservation goals.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s MENTOR program is a fellowship that combines rigorous academic and field-based training, mentoring, learning through experience, and project design and implementation. MENTOR brings together teams of emerging African conservation leaders to act on major threats facing their wildlife populations -- I was delighted to meet a few of these leaders earlier this week. Recently, the MENTOR-POP – or “Progress on Pangolins” – team was able to attend the most recent CITES CoP in South Africa as a voice for Central Africa’s three pangolin species, and helped to ensure that all eight pangolin species were uplisted to CITES Appendix I, which provides the highest level of protection afforded by the treaty.

Evolving Role of the CBFP

A great strength of the CBFP has been that, as new threats to conservation emerge, as international policy priorities shift, and as recognition grows of the relevance of conservation to our socio-economic well-being – the Partnership has been able to evolve to embrace these changes. In our previous Facilitation, the United States prioritized the inclusion of civil society as a key partner in conservation activities in the field that is not always able to elevate its issues and concerns to policymakers and international organizations. Today we are joined by traditional leaders, youth networks, and local students who have spent the last three days sharing information in technical streams, who were given an equal role at the table representing the diverse partner categories of the CBFP, and who tomorrow will join in sharing reflections and recommendations to Congo Basin Ministers. In addition, in our previous facilitation an Academic Consortium emerged, bringing together U.S. and Canadian universities to understand better the diversity of research and academic programs in the region and seek opportunities for partnership with Central African institutions to build capacity and promote knowledge retention in the region. Today, the Academic Consortium of the CBFP boasts participation by the Universities of California, Drexel, Laval, Maryland, New Orleans, Oregon, South Florida, and Wisconsin. They have established partnerships for overlapping regional activities, identified local universities for exchange programs, and earlier this week I learned that this academic network is developing commercial engagement to attract private sector interest.

Those are but two examples of how the CBFP has evolved to tackle shifting priorities in region, and we will continue to see change as we build the value of the CBFP for all local and international players.

A Look to the Future

Conservation in Central Africa can seem daunting, but we have accomplished much in the last fifteen years as individual partners and as a community. As I stand here among old and new friends and partners, I am inspired by the diversity of actions and pledges we have all taken to preserve the Congo Basin’s biodiversity for the enjoyment and prosperity of future generations. Our mission remains timely and critical, and the United States supports these ideals of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership.

I know many in this room are eager to hear details of the next U.S. administration’s role in Central Africa and the environment. While I cannot speculate on the future administration’s priorities, I am energized by the momentum and continuity of CBFP activities that sets a strong foundation for the sustainability of this partnership. We congratulate the EU for asserting an ambitious agenda in Kigali and look forward to working with all partners to build an even more effective mechanism for dialogue and action.

Thank you.