Gabon minister explains at Expo how the African nation is already at net zero, and why progress should not mean sacrificing nature
DUBAI, 11 December 2021 — For Gabon, a country located on the Atlantic coast of Central Africa, with 800km of coastline, 88 per cent of its land covered in forest, and with the second-largest elephant population on the continent, a commitment to environmental protection is a must rather than an ambition.
One of the figures attending Gabon’s National Day at Expo 2020 Dubai this month was Professor Lee White, Minister of Water, Forest, the Sea and Environment, who outlined Gabon’s approach to this issue.
How is Gabon providing leadership in preserving the environment for future generations?
Gabon provides a positive example as the most carbon-positive country on Earth. Our nation has a net absorption of 105 million tonnes of CO2 per year, with 88 per cent forest cover, and a deforestation rate below 0.1 per cent.
We’re developing an economic model where 30 per cent of our forest will be in protected areas, around 60 per cent will be in sustainable forestry concessions, managed for long-term sustainable harvest, and the remaining 10 per cent in community lands and farming.
We want to show that tropical rainforests can be a viable economic resource for a country — and you don’t have to cut forests down to boost development. We believe that preserving the forests, creating jobs and improving livelihoods can be one unified goal.
How is Gabon expressing its theme, ‘Creating a Sustainable Future’, at Expo 2020 Dubai?
The Gabon Pavilion is focused on forests and nature, and upon the country’s development. Often, in history, nature has suffered as countries have developed, which has led to the climate and biodiversity crisis. The pavilion shows how we’ve developed a synergy. It’s important that we all harness nature, rather than continue to destroy it.
What would you like to see from COP28 in the UAE?
COP28 will be vital, as at that point we’ll need a global stock take. This will mean a scientific evaluation of the commitments made by all countries in reducing emissions.
If we discover we’re not being ambitious enough, then at COP28 we have to increase that ambition, and see whether or not we can limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We’ve seen positive signs for countries committed towards a net-zero ambition — Gabon is already there, but we’re all going to have to commit to more.
What measures are necessary to create a more sustainable world?
We’ll need to integrate the notion of sustainability and environmental integrity into everything that we do. If we’re going to use fossil fuels, we have to find ways to compensate for the emissions that are created. And we need to find ways to avoid filling the atmosphere with CO2, and integrate sustainable development principles into every aspect of our lives.
We’re intelligent enough to do that, but the problem is motivation — countries only seem to develop the will to address climate change once they start suffering. We should reframe and understand that we need to act now.