Protecting the Earth’s Green Lungs

Environmental Campaigners talk about the Climate Crisis and Climate Emergency but Climate is only half the picture with an Ecological Crisis emerging in parallel. So we also need to see huge changes in ecosystems management, Government’s with large swathes of forest need to know they aren’t alone when they try to do the right thing and they aren’t the only actors who are able to help maintain these critical ecosystems. So even when states like Brazil take the side of profit against nature we can still act.

The Congo River Basin’s tropical forests and wetlands, much of which cover the territory of Gabon, is the second largest green lung after the Amazon

These tropical rainforests and wetlands are also a primary resource of food security, energy production, and agriculture for thousands of Gabonese. Many depend on these wetlands for their livelihoods, particularly fishing, the country’s main subsistence activity.

These Wetlands are increasingly threatened by deforestation, over-fishing, and climate shocks.

Over fishing becomes a particular problem during economic downturns when many who can’t find work turn to subsistence activity but without respecting regulations or fishing techniques or biological recovery periods.

The World Bank have reported that older fishermen from local fishing villages where quick to remark how those who had come to fish were not respecting natural boundaries. Fine nets were catching fish too young to eat, jellyfish and other inedible fish were being caught, killed and discarded.

The Government of Gabon highlighted 9 sites in its own territory for the attention of the international wetlands convention and received help from numerous international actors in spreading good practise and conservation techniques in these areas.

Measures of sharing best practise and ecosystem management have begun to restore fish stocks, maintaining livelihoods in the long term.


Back in Brazil there have also been successful initiatives in the past.

For instance the Soy Memorandum has been in place since 2006 and has dramatically reduced clearfelling deforestation.

90% of Soy is used to feed livestock, largely for consumption in Europe and America, although increasingly now in Asia too.

As demand for meat has grown so has the demand for soy which, between 2001 and 2006 lead to the deforestation of over a million hectares of precious, biodiverse forest.

A few large companies were behind much of this demand for growth which lead to pressure from civil society groups such as Greenpeace and WWF on large consumers of Soy. When they finally agreed to sign the Soy Memorandum it changed demand patterns. Under the agreement only soy purchased from farmers who were not clear felling rain forest to expand soy fields.

Independent observers have reported that this practise has been largely successful with only 1% of soy expansion coming from clearance, down from 30% before the memorandum was signed.

Using satellite imagery they have even argued that this civil society and business linked agreement changing demand patterns has been more successful and violated less than government backed initiatives such as the Brazil Forest Code.

Parts of the initiative which require land to be registered have been hailed as significant steps forward, but laws to hold 80% of rainforest on a persons property in reserve and only cultivate the other 20% has been largely ignored.

Enforcement is increasing but it was estimated that only 15 to 50% of illegal, large scale deforestation was caught by government forces. Whereas large soy traders have been able to exercise significant power and control to influence land management decisions.

Clearly a range of measures is needed to protect the rainforest but where Government’s fail to act others may be more effective.


Clearly deforestation has shot up in the Amazon in recent years, but especially since Jair Bolsonaro became president in January, despite his protestations that the data and satellite imagery is lying. Populist Right Wing Presidents have a habit of calling evidence fake news!

The UK Government needs both to engage that administration at all levels and help them to either diversify their economy away from land intensive industries or at the very least focus on increasing their production from the ample land which has already been cleared without needing to clear fell more, or, where that fails, how the UK Government might take innovative steps to act as a third party to bring in it’s own standards or regulations to reduce demand for products which stimulate the destruction of the rain forest?

A future Labour Government must take this Internationalist approach and consider our Green Industrial Revolution which will change modes of work, energy production and land management not as a national but global project offering UK expertise where it is needed. The UK also needs to learn from programme’s in the Global South which have had real success and utilise DFID and DIT to support their roll-out.

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