The forests of the DRC are part of the great Congo Basin, which represents 18% of the world's tropical forests and stores around 8% of the world's forest carbon [1]. According to FAO, the DRC has about 152.6 million hectares of forested land which constitutes 67.3% of the total land area. Tropical forests cover about 37% of the land, dry forests 19%, swamp forests 4%, and mountain forests 2% [2]. About 152.5 million hectares are primary or naturally regenerated forests, and about 60,000 hectares are planted forests [3].

Forests in DRC, however, are subject to various pressures which translate into a net loss of 0.3% of area per year [3]. As the largest stock of carbon, the forests of the DRC represent 17 million tonnes [4]. It has been estimated that, in a worst-case scenario, complete deforestation in the country could result in the release of up to 140 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of nearly three years of current total global GHG emissions [4].

In addition to this, deforestation in the Congo Basin has been linked to potential drying up over the basin as well as changes in rainfall over the Sahel, the Ethiopian highlands and the Guinean coast [1]. The decline in vegetation greenness, particularly in the Congolese forest, is generally consistent with decreases in rainfall and terrestrial water storage in the country.


Since 2010, deforestation in the DRC has increased considerably. In 2020, DRC had the second highest rate of deforestation only after Brazil [1]. GHG emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are the main source of emissions in the country. DRC is among the top ten in the world in terms of loss of forest cover in absolute terms, with an estimated deforestation rate of over 350,000 ha per year (0.3%) between 2000 and 2010. According to projections by Greenpeace (2017), the country could lose 40% of its forests by 2050 [5].

The main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in the country are subsistence agriculture, fuelwood production and logging, as well as road and urban infrastructure.

In addition, the people of the DRC have traditionally relied heavily on access to forests for a variety of resources. Fuelwood is the main source of energy for cooking, and around 95% of the country's energy needs are currently met by biomass sources. According to the UNEP, the collection of charcoal and fuelwood is considered a key driver of deforestation as it is used for most of the energy needs of the population [3].

Poverty also plays a role in deforestation in the DRC. There are increasingly unsustainable intrusions by hunters, palm wine producers, snail hunters, and healers using traditional medicines, within the country’s protected areas [3].


Key policies and governance approach

The 2002 Forest Code sets out the law applicable to the conservation, exploitation, and development of forestry resources in DRC. In 2001, the Forest Working Group (Groupe de Travail Forets (GTF)) was created with the objective of contributing to the improvement of forest governance. GTF works in the areas of advocacy for sustainable natural resource management, forest governance monitoring, community conservation, and community development for forest populations. GTF has been active in popularization of the forest code, the legal review of forest concessions, and strengthening local community capacity [3].

Another important institution in the forest sector is the Federation of Wood Industry (Fédération des Industriels du Bois (FIB)), a federation of companies working in the forest sector in the DRC. The FIB works in collaboration with several partners in the DRC to supervise industrial forest concessionaires, such as the collaboration that the FIB maintains with the International Technical Association of Tropical Timber (ATIBT) [3]. In 2020, driven by the wish to improve forest sector governance in DRC, the FIB and the National Coalition against illegal logging (CNCEIB), a merger of organizations and environmental civil society networks, signed a memorandum of understanding to take part in forest governance improvement [6].

The DRC demonstrates political commitment to REDD+ at the national level as well as internationally within the framework of the UNFCCC. The DRC has put in place the national REDD+ infrastructure. Significant progress includes, inter alia, a national consensus on the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation; adoption of the National REDD+ Strategy by the Council of Ministers; the establishment of the National REDD+ Fund (FONAREDD) in April 2016;  the revision of the National REDD+ Investment Plan 2015-2020, which has become the basis for allocating resources; and the finalization of REDD+ safeguard instruments, namely the Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF) [1].  


Successes and Remaining Challenges

In July 2021, Environment Minister Eve Bazaiba announced plans to lift the 2002 moratorium, due to its ineffectiveness in stopping the proliferation of illegal logging. The environment ministry's plan to lift the moratorium on new industrial logging concessions has dismayed environmental groups and scientists, who have warned of catastrophic environmental, social and climatic impacts. The European Union's ambassador to DRC has signalled openness to the government's plan, saying that it represented a "desire to regain control" of the forests [7].

The forestry sector suffers from the same institutional shortcomings as other sectors. The main challenges relate to the general weak level of institutional and technical capacities in DRC. While human activities are certainly a threat to the country's forests, weak governance and the limited capacity and institutional mechanisms to limit deforestation and enforce regulations remain a challenge [1]. The public administration in the DRC has historically suffered from corruption and abuse of authority, and a large number of civil servants have limited resources and training [2].

In addition, forest management in the DRC mainly focuses on the fight against deforestation. This focus is urgent and logical and attracts donors and climate funds. However, other forest management such as conserving and maintaining forest health lacks support.

Also, there is a lack of national digital information on national forestry, properties and biodiversity. The identification, enhancement and communication of forest data are reserved for a small number of actors. However, this information is not available to national or international investors or funding agencies to guide the pursuit of private and public economic management of the forest resource [8].


Initiatives and Development Plans

Launched at COP26, a group of donors including the United Kingdom and the European Union pledged $1.5 billion to protect the Congo Basin. In what was hailed as a landmark deal, the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) also announced a 10-year agreement (2021-2031), with $500 million earmarked for the DRC during the first five years [9].  Through this new multi-year partnership, the DRC aims to first cap forest cover loss at its 2014-2018 average and ensure that deforestation continues to decline. The partnership will also promote the regeneration of 8 million hectares of degraded land and forests, and place 30% of national areas under a protection status, including areas where local communities undertake efforts to manage forests sustainably [10].

In addition, the EU supports charcoal makers to protect the forests of the Congo Basin, through the project Governing multifunctional landscapes in sub-Saharan Africa (GML). In 2020, EU funding supported the training of around 70 charcoal makers and the creation of 11 community nurseries in the Kisangani region. That year, more than 220,000 trees were planted through the EU initiative - an amount that will double in 2021 [11].


Goals and Ambitions

The DRC government aims to reduce more than 18 million tonnes of GHG emissions over the next 30 years. In order to reduce deforestation and emissions in the Congo Basin forests combined efforts that strengthen governance, the capacities of forestry institutions and the improvement of sectoral activities on reforestation, agroforestry, forest management and community engagement will be necessary in the country.

  • Promote specific investment areas that include afforestation and reforestation through agroforestry and other methods and community-based capacity building on sustainable forest management.  
  • While the DRC’s forests are of significance to the global and regional environment, they also matter crucially for the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on them. Local communities’ participation should be included in forest land use planning to ensure that the DRC’s forests generate growth and promote development that benefits all citizens.
  • In DRC wood energy is estimated to account for about 58% of forest degradation and 19% of deforestation over 2010-2030. It is recommended to increase access to improved cooking stoves and sustainable charcoal-making techniques in the country and development of alternative energy sources.
  • Data collection and analysis on forest loss and land degradation, in coordination with national REDD and REDD+ programs should be improved [1].

[1] Climate Risk Profile: Congo, Democratic Republic (2021): The World Bank Group

[2] Debroux, L., Hart, T., Kaimowitz, D., Karsenty, A. and Topa, G. (Eds.) 2007 Forests in Post Conflict Democratic Republic of Congo: Analysis of a Priority Agenda. A joint report by teams of the World Bank, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Centre International de Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Conseil National des ONG de Développement du Congo (CNONGD), Conservation International (CI), Groupe de Travail Forêts (GTF), Ligue Nationale des Pygmées du Congo (LINAPYCO), Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), Réseau des Partenaires pour l’Environnement au Congo (REPEC), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC), World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). xxii, 82p. ISBN 979-24-4665-6

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[8] GCF (2018). "Implementation of Digital Registration and Management of the Tropical Forest and Biodiversity for sustainable e-governance forestery in DR Congo – Short name E-forestry DRC".

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