Norway and Liberia sign a deal to stem deforestation

Liberia is to become the first nation in Africa to completely stop cutting down its trees in return for development aid. Liberia’s forests are not as big as other countries but the country is home to a significant part of West Africa’s remaining rainforest, with about 43% of the Upper Guinean forest.

It is also a global diversity hotspot, home to the last remaining viable populations of species including western chimpanzees, forest elephants and leopards.

But since the civil war ended in 2003, illegal logging has become rife. In 2012, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf attracted international criticism when she handed out licences to companies to cut down 58% of all the primary rainforest left in the country. After protests many of those permits were cancelled.

Now the Norwegians and the Liberian government have signed a deal that they both believe will protect the forests into the future. Under the terms of the agreement, Norway will help Liberia to initially build up the capacity to monitor and police the forests. Liberia will refrain from issuing any new logging concessions until all existing ones have been reviewed by an independent body.

The country agrees to place 30% or more of its forest estate under protected area status by 2020. It will also pilot direct payments to communities for protecting the forest. Ultimately the Norwegians will pay for results, with independent verification that trees remain standing.

With widespread corruption and a government struggling to impose its authority, campaigners recognise that stopping all the logging in Liberia will not be easy.

“There is the potential for this to go wrong, both Norway and Liberia will have to make sure that this deal does not get affected by corruption, but I am cautiously confident it can be done,” said Patrick Alley, the director of campaign group Global Witness. “It’s really good news, it’s transformational for Liberia when all the news coming out of there is bad – I think this will be a real boost.”

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