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Seeing the wood for the trees
Deforestation in Liberia

Written by Tim

Liberia is in a quandary over its forests: should it pursue a low carbon economy or develop commercial forestry? 

With deforestation contributing about 18 per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions and the global community committed to cutting deforestation by half by 2020, this is a dilemma of more than national concern. 

Historically, there has been a low deforestation rate in Liberia and today 40 per cent of the country is covered by rainforest. This marks it out from its neighbours: Sierra Leone, where only 5 per cent of the original forest remains, and Cote d’Ivoire, which exported hardwoods on a level with Brazil in 2002. 

Part of the reason for the low deforestation rate is because the UN placed timber sanctions on Liberia in 2003. This occurred in reaction to the Charles Taylor regime which used exports of blood timber (as well as diamonds) to procure arms in breach of UN sanctions, to fight a civil war in Liberia, and sponsor the Revolutionary United Front, notorious for its campaign of rape and amputation, in its struggle in Sierra Leone. 

With a return to relative stability UN sanctions were lifted in 2006 and all timber contracts were declared null and void.

Today government policy suggests Liberia is moving towards high levels of timber extraction. Their Poverty Reduction Strategy forecasts forestry revenues to grow from US$500,000 in 2008 to US$24million in 2010. 

Despite this, Liberia has entered the REDD scheme – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation – which uses financial incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it is a long and complicated process. Although Liberia has completed the first step drawing a US$200,000 grant, there are concerns that it lacks the capability to handle complex carbon accounting and the institutions to manage the financial flows. So it is possible that Liberia will not be deemed ready and REDD investments diverted to better functioning, but less needy, economies. 

This may all be academic. REDD remains incomplete in the aftermath of Copenhagen, and a deal on hold until the UNFCCC meets in Mexico in December 2010. In its absence other processes to protect the world’s tropical rainforests are underway. A source of salvation may be the Prince’s Rainforests Project, which has developed a proposal for emergency financing for tropical forests, and could provide interim funding while the creases in REDD are ironed out. 

One thing is clear, if developed countries do not act to support and reward countries like Liberia for protecting their carbon stocks, there will be no quandary. Developing countries with high forest cover will continue to chop down their trees to fuel development. 

To see photos of Liberia click here.

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Deforestation in Liberia: a low carbon economy or commercial forestry?

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