Highlights from USFS Side Events at COP28

In December 2023, the U.S. Forest Service Central Africa Program co-hosted two different side events at the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC) pavilion during COP28 in Dubai. The events focused on building the capacity of early career women in climate science and sharing challenges and solutions in addressing transboundary landscape management. USFS also sponsored five women from the Central Africa Women’s Initiative for Climate Action (WICA) to attend and experience climate diplomacy in action.

Balancing climate change mitigation, adaptation, economic growth, and conservation in the Congo Basin: How can integrated governance, planning, and management enhance nature and people in key landscapes?

Speakers and organizers of the UNEP-WCMC/USFS side event. Photo by dr*********************@go****.com” data-hovercard-owner-id=”95″>Jennifer Van Geesbergen, U.S. Forest Service International Programs.

USFS, in partnership with the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), organized a side event focused on strategies for achieving a collective vision for the development of the Congo Basin, emphasizing integrated governance, integrated land-use planning, and sustainable forest management.

During the session, insights from various country experiences in the region were shared, highlighting the accomplishments of the Congo Basin Sustainable Landscapes Impact Program (CBSL IP). CBSL IP is an initiative addressing immediate biodiversity and land rights challenges in the Congo Basin. It also supports local planning, involving stakeholders and the private sector in sustainable practices, contributing to the preservation of intact forests and vital biodiversity. Engaging six countries—Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo (ROC)—the CBSL IP promotes conservation, sustainable development, and climate resilience in this critical ecological region. The side event not only outlined the program’s ambitions but also explored opportunities to enhance its impact.

Addressing the importance of sustainable land use planning and management, Mr. Bruno Pozzi, the Deputy Director of the Ecosystems Division at UNEP, stressed the significance of protecting the basin’s biodiversity and natural capital. “The Congo basin is a crucial global ecosystem. Unfortunately, the exploitation of ecosystem services and commodities in the basin is not always ecologically sensitive. Therefore, the basin requires innovative and transformational investments and actions to protect its rich diversity, foster regional development, and preserve carbon storage capacity in alignment with the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the global biodiversity framework. The ecosystem services it provides are essential for the livelihoods of the populations depending on it,” he reminded listeners during his presentation.

USFS Cameroon Country Coordinator Olivier Sene presents during the side event. Photo by dr*********************@go****.com” data-hovercard-owner-id=”95″>Yvette Diffo, U.S. Forest Service International Programs.

Other speakers at the event included Mr. Valérie Chanute Tite from the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC), Mr. Theophile Zognou, Executive Director of the Tri-National Sangha Trust Fund (FTNS), Dieudonné Bruno Waneyombo-Brachka, Director of Cabinet, Ministry of Water, Forests, Hunting and Fishing, Central African Republic, and Olivier Sene, USFS Cameroon Country Coordinator. Speakers collectively emphasized the vital role of integrated governance, planning, and management in transboundary landscapes, acknowledging the leadership of the Central Africa Forest Commission (COMIFAC) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in this process.

The approach of integrated landscape land-use planning, incorporating vulnerability to climate change and natural capital accounting, was presented as a method to create a shared vision for landscapes among stakeholders. The discussions touched on integrated management approaches for different zones within the landscape, emphasizing their potential to yield multiple benefits for biodiversity, climate change, land degradation, and socioeconomic development. Success stories from the region were also highlighted, and opportunities to promote synergies with other regional initiatives were recognized, accompanied by specific measures to encourage coordinated political engagement in integrated governance, planning, and management.

During his presentation, Theophile Zognou highlighted ongoing efforts to facilitate regional coordination. “States have signed conventions like the Biodiversity Convention, they are currently working to align national policies and legislations through frameworks like the cooperation protocol, aiming for common management objectives and sanctions for poachers to combat poaching and enhance collaboration among states,” he said. “This underscores the unavoidable need for institutional harmonization.”

Post-event, a technical meeting with COMIFAC is scheduled to discuss the implementation of activities under the CBSL IP, focusing on enhanced land use planning methodology and the training of key stakeholders from the six Congo Basin countries.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded Congo Basin Sustainable Landscapes Impact Program (CBSL IP), led by UNEP, includes one regional and six national child projects. The first component of the regional project, entitled Transformational Change in Sustainable Forest Management in Transboundary Landscapes of the Congo Basin, is focused on integrated transboundary land use planning and is being implemented by USFS and UNEP-WCMC. USFS is currently working with national and local project partners to ensure integrated land use management planning processes are broadly and meaningfully participatory and that customary land mapping and climate change considerations are fully integrated into the land use management planning process across countries in the Congo Basin.

The Central Africa Women’s Initiative for Climate Action (WICA)

WICA Fellows with mentors and USFS staff. Photo courtesy of Martine Wando.

At the beginning of COP 28, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology in the United Arab Emirates, emphasized the significance of adhering to the “North Star” of the Paris Agreement—specifically, the commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C—throughout negotiations. Listening closely to his speech were five women from the Central Africa Women’s Initiative for Climate Action (WICA). Launched in 2021 by USFS, WICA is a training program with a focus on enhancing the capacity and involvement of women in climate processes in Cameroon, CAR, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and ROC.

Since its launch, WICA has provided training to 200 women in Central Africa on climate change issues. Additionally, 60 women have completed a rigorous diploma program in measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) offered by the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (GHGMI). In addition to completing a degree program, fellows work with mentors from organizations like the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN), as well as attend seminars and webinars, and undertake internships in national climate change and sustainable development institutions.

Some WICA fellows are also able to participate in various conferences, including the yearly COP conferences. During the COPs the fellows get firsthand experience in climate diplomacy and spend two weeks attending meetings, participating in side events, and supporting their national delegations.

This year’s WICA side event was held at the COMIFAC pavilion and focused on capacity building and the engagement of Central African women in responding to climate change. Participants in the side event discussed the program goals, successes, and outlook. Speakers included WICA Program Fellows Axelle Vera Nfono and Urielle Nsenda, Martine Badibanga, the Climate Change Focal Point from the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development in the DRC, Timothée Kagonbe, the Climate Change Focal Point from the Ministry of the Environment, Protection of Nature, and Sustainable Development in Cameroon, Molly White, the Senior Director of the Education Program at the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute, Eloise Guidi, a Greenhouse Gas Inventory Expert from the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN), Maria Juan Blasco, the Registrar at GHGMI, and Eugène Loh Chia, the USFS Central Africa Climate Change and Programs Specialist in DRC.

WICA fellows during the COP. Photo courtesy of Marie Bernadette Kafka.

When they weren’t participating in the USFS side event, the WICA fellows were able to attend negotiation sessions, engage in capacity-building sessions focused on enhancing transparency in the Biennial Transparency Report (BTR), and meet experts, politicians, and activists from around the world.

For Axelle Vera NFONO, a WICA fellow from Cameroon, participating in the national delegation and engaging in COP negotiations affirmed her chosen career path. “The knowledge I have gained and people I have met […] along the corridors of the COP has reinforced my ambitions to be an expert in greenhouse gas emissions.”

At the end of the conference, fellows witnessed the declarations concerning progress in mitigation, adaptation, and implementation mechanisms. While there is always more progress to be made, the fellows found encouragement in the official negotiated text that solidifies the institutionalization of the Youth Climate Champion (YCC) role within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, mandating that all future COP Presidencies must ensure meaningful participation and representation of youth in forthcoming COPs.

“Attending the COP as a youth and an aspiring climate negotiator and witnessing an outcome which underlines the role as a youth in future COPs through the Youth Climate Champion stirred my aspirations in climate change-related domains,” said Martine WANDO, a WICA fellow from ROC. “Add to that the up-close experience of how negotiations are conducted, and this experience has inspired me to forge my path to create a positive impact for my country and sub-region.”

Leveraging the opportunities and resources provided by the WICA program and its partners, fellows are already making a positive impact, while inspiring and supporting other women to do the same. Urielle NSENDA, a fellow from the DRC, recently earned a nomination to the roster of experts in her country—a testament to her hard work. Attending events like COP 28 is a crucial step in involving more women from the region in climate work. As they persist in their studies, work, and leadership roles, the collective efforts of these inspiring individuals offer hope for a brighter and more sustainable future for their nations and beyond.

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