Gabon’s political landscape has been tumultuous, but its environmental policies will remain unchanged — if not more aggressive. In August, the military led a relatively nonviolent coup d’etat, deposing its president, whose family held power over the African nation for 56 years.
Gabon, one of several nations comprising the Congo Basin, is essential to keeping global temperature rises in check. It is composed almost exclusively of rainforests, which absorb CO2 emissions. The country’s previous government was committed to forest preservation, and the current one shares the same mission.
“Africa without the Congo Basin means 500,000 climate refugees and 3-degree Celsius temperature rises,” says Lee White, Gabon’s former environmental and forestry minister, at COP28 in Dubai in response to my questions. “Saving the rainforest should be easy, and it’s at least 20% of the solution. The new government has maintained the forestry team and is strongly committed to the climate goals. But it wants to see some payback now. The global community must reward Gabon for being a good global citizen.”
The rainforest nations should be more incentivized to keep their trees standing. They could sell the land for lumber or agricultural purposes. As for Gabon, it has a youthful population that needs jobs, and more than a third of its population is impoverished.
Gabon is an 88% tropical rainforest nation. It cuts down very few trees. But the country also hosts an oil industry comprising 60% of its economy. While those revenues have provided some cushion, they are a dwindling asset — a function of climate change and the demand for fossil fuels.
Former President Ali Bongo Ondimba ostensibly won the general election held on August 26, 2023. However, the populace suspected fraud. While Bongo took over the helm in 2009, his family had reigned for decades — a tenure riddled with allegations of corruption. Civil unrest followed the August election, leading the armed forces to stage a coup. The military then installed Brigadier General Brice Oligui. The new president vows to hold elections in 2025.
Climate Finance A Sticking Point
Janvier Kevin Ndong Nzogho is Gabon’s national coordinator of greenhouse gas inventory. He worked for the previous government, and the current one retained him. He told me during the COP meetings that the country’s climate policies remain the same and that President Oligui will “continue forest preservation and to fight climate change.”
While Oligui has not announced his political ambitions, most think he will run for president in 2025. Therefore, he is motivated to keep the rainforests intact — “part of the climate change mitigation plan,” says Ndong-Nzogho.
“There won’t be big-scale destruction of our forests in the short run,” he adds, but that could change long term if the climate negotiations fail. Land use is heavily regulated, and the forests are a matter of national pride.
None of this obviates the need for climate finance. Former Environmental Minister Lee White told me that the country has spent two decades methodically keeping track of its trees and saving them. However, it has been paid very little by interested parties, causing him to say that no business would keep its doors open if it didn’t make money for two decades.
He suggested they should have insisted on green bonds — financial vehicles that pay off over a certain period. A green bond acts like a traditional one but has an environmental mission. Two decades ago, those bonds weren’t a thing. But today, they are — a roughly $1 trillion market.
I spoke with two investment bankers who said that green bonds must have a regulated and verified asset to work along with a functioning financial market that can purchase the product. In other words, 20 years ago, countries didn’t account for their forest lands or deforestation rates, and now many do. Moreover, corporations had little pressure to make environmental, social, and governance investments. And today, this is part of their company-wide mission.
Climate finance remains the sticking point in these negotiations. However, the two bankers said they had come out of retirement to propel corporate sales. It’s about forest preservation, they said — the key to keeping the Paris Agreement alive.
Get Used to Intense Weather Events
The agreement, of course, aims to keep temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century.
To this end, Professor Pierre Friedlingstein of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute and I spoke. He’s the lead author of the Global Carbon Budget, which finds that temperature increases have risen 1.1% over 2022 levels globally, although they are falling in the advanced economies. He says emissions are not increasing as fast as they were but are not declining at the levels we need to reach net zero.
Today, the warming is 1.2 degrees Celsius, but if the current trend continues, we hit the 1.5-degree mark in 2030. With that, we get frequent and intense flooding, droughts, and heat waves. It’s inescapable, which will lead to climate migration.
“To reverse the CO2 trend, we need to stop deforestation and reduce fossil fuel emissions, and the sum of all this must be zero emissions. We also need reforestation and direct air capture, but the scale must be massive,” the professor said.
Climate change is a global problem, and it requires collective action. The Global South will play an integral part by keeping their trees standing and absorbing CO2. But it involves climate finance. Welcome Gabon’s climate team, working hard to quantify its forests and verify its CO2 reductions.