Experts meet in Congo in bid to rescue world forests

BRAZZAVILLE Tue May 31, 2011 11:40am EDT

A devastated forest area is seen at the National Forest Reservation Bom Futuro (Good Future), some 200km (124 miles) from Porto Velho in this May 19, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Roberto Jayme/files

A devastated forest area is seen at the National Forest Reservation Bom Futuro (Good Future), some 200km (124 miles) from Porto Velho in this May 19, 2009 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Roberto Jayme/files

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BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Representatives from 35 countries will seek ways to protect the world's largest rainforests during a week-long meeting in Republic of Congo starting on Tuesday.

The outcome of the summit could play a role in the preservation of some 80 percent of the world's remaining tropical forests, seen by experts as key to offsetting rising global emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

Environment ministers and some heads of state will be among the delegates aiming to draft a cooperation agreement to preserve the Amazon in South America, the Congo in Central Africa, and the Borneo-Mekong in Indonesia.

"We need to work together to promote best forest practices in the three basins. This is the main objective of the summit," Congo's Forest Economy Minister Henri Djombo said at the official opening of the summit on Monday.

"We are called upon to reduce deforestation and better manage our forests, so we need to be more rational about how we use them," he said.

Logging, population pressure and razing forests to grow cash crops like palm oil remain a major threat to the world's jungles, but developing countries are increasingly taking measures to protect them.

Some hope to attract funding from rich nations keen to offset emissions by protecting trees in faraway places.

Forests suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and the international Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program seeks to create financial value for the carbon stored there.

Six countries, including the United States, France and Australia pledged $3.5 billion under the REDD program at a climate change summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

The Congo Basin forests cover 200 million hectares and sink an estimated 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, offsetting nearly 2 percent of global emissions, says the Congo Basin Forest Partnership.

But growing populations, expanding agriculture, road construction, mining and rising Asian demand for hardwood lumber have intensified pressure on the Congo Basin, as it has on the world's other two rainforest basins.

More than a billion people depend on the big three forests for their livelihood, which also house two-thirds of the world's land species, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

(This story is corrected in the second paragraph to make clear that the preservation will be 80 percent of tropical forests.)

(Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Richard Valdmanis)

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