Over 45 percent forested. Ravaged by civil war and poverty. Building a green economy.
Emerging from decades of conflict, the West African nation of Liberia, led by Africa’s first female head of state President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is pioneering a new development strategy that emphasizes the relationship between community, commercial and conservation goals.
In fact, forest protection is a cornerstone of the country’s progressive poverty-reduction strategy. Liberia is defining a development pathway that will ensure that its forests are leveraged to make long-term contributions to the country’s economic development. Conservation International (CI) is supporting the government with scientific and economic advice to weigh the costs and benefits of this strategy, as well as plan for success.
The Wealth of Forests
Forest ecosystems have long played an important role in the lives of most rural Liberians. The country’s 4.4 million hectares (more than 10.8 million acres) of forests provide timber, bushmeat, medicines and other resources, along with other ecosystem services such as protection from soil erosion, clean water filtration and crucial habitat for rare species such as the Western chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus) and pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis).
IN DEPTH: Discover the role that forests play in climate change.
As Liberia advances from a phase of recovery to development, its people are faced with tough choices. Rapidly logging the forest may be the quickest option for job creation and export revenue; however, unsustainable resource use will also quickly degrade the country’s vital ecosystem services. In an attempt to address this challenge, Liberia is choosing a more careful and deliberate path: planning for sustainable use and conservation. This decision imposes higher upfront costs; however, these expenses will be offset by longer term benefits.
Liberia is defining a development pathway that will ensure that its forests are leveraged to make long-term contributions to the country’s economic development.
As the world’s nations struggle to find viable ways to mitigate climate change, the carbon market is emerging as an important new opportunity for forested developing countries like Liberia to make that choice, holding the potential to revitalize their economies, protect essential resources and enhance global climate security. Funding for this system would be provided by international investment in forest protection through mechanisms such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).
Toward Low-Carbon Development
Recognizing the support that CI has provided in the region for over eight years, in 2009, the Liberian government requested CI’s assistance in analyzing the costs and benefits associated with pursuing business as usual versus an innovative new low carbon development approach. For most of the year, CI economists Keith Lawrence and Eduard Niesten and Eric Werker of the Harvard Business School worked with counterparts in government ministries and Liberian NGOs to conduct an economic analysis of the country, examining the costs and benefits of various policy options in a range of sectors, including timber, forest protection and agriculture.
ARTICLE: LIberia: A Future in the Forests
The researchers presented the study’s findings in Monrovia in November at a high-level policy workshop with government officials. The analysis indicated that a 25-year low-carbon development strategy could provide substantial benefits for Liberia, and included the following conclusions:
- Liberia’s participation in the carbon market could bring in annual revenues of at least $55 million (or up to three times that amount if carbon credit prices continue to rise)
- Income from a carbon finance system could be invested in more sustainable agricultural practices, which would reduce deforestation due to slash-and-burn methods and bring long-term economic and environmental benefits for farmers
- A variety of means should be combined to reduce deforestation, ranging from the expansion of protected areas to the introduction of energy-efficient stoves, which would reduce the need for fuelwood.
This analysis is currently being reviewed and discussed further with individual ministries and agencies. If the plan is approved, Liberia will join countries like Guyana and Suriname as the pioneers of the emerging carbon market—an industry which can enhance climate security, conserve resources and improve livelihoods simultaneously.
The fact that such change is possible in a nation rebuilding after conflict spells possibility both for other countries across Africa and around the world who are dealing with similar challenges, and for more developed nations seeking ways to reduce their impact on the Earth and help others do so as well.
READ MORE: Forest Carbon Pays Off