carbon sinks

Gabon’s forests nourish the Sahel and Blue Nile. What happens if they vanish?

By Fred Harter

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Posted on November 15, 2021 07:08

A lone elephant grazes at a clearing in the rain forest of Lope Reserve, Gabon. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

As oil dwindles, Gabon is looking for new sources of revenue. It wants to be paid for preserving its virgin rainforests — which is equivalent to around a year’s worth of global emissions. The consequences of Gabon chopping down its forests, argues Gabon forests minister Lee White, would be catastrophic: no more clouds feeding the Blue Nile and the Sahel, which could push tens of millions of Nigerians and Egyptians off their land.

Clad in camouflage and grasping a tape measure in one hand, Vincent Medjibe is hugging a tree in the Gabonese rainforest, trying to gauge its size. Since 2011 he has been in charge of calculating how much carbon is locked into his country’s trees, one of the world’s last remaining tracts of intact tropical forest.

“It’s very labour intensive work,” said Medjibe, who dispatches teams deep into the jungle to measure trees and take samples from the soil. “Normally you have to walk 3 or 4 days into the forest before you can even start. Then you can have anywhere up to 400 trees to survey.”

Roughly 90% of Gabon is covered by thick jungle, an area around the size of the United Kingdom. This forest, part of the Congo Basin, is teeming with biodiversity, home to lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and most of Africa’s critically endangered forest elephants.

It also acts as a massive carbon sink.


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