NEW YORK/WASHINGTON – Gabon is one of the greenest countries in the world, with 88 percent of its land covered by forest. A historic agreement between Gabon and Norway is seeking to ensure it stays that way. 

Through the U.N.-backed Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), Norway will pay Gabon up to $150 million over 10 years in exchange for Gabon reducing its carbon emissions and to give value to the forests’ role in absorbing carbon dioxide. 

In an interview with Voice of America, Lee White, Gabon’s Minister of Forests, said the agreement is groundbreaking because it is making it nearly as valuable for countries to preserve forests as to chop them down. “In all of the deals we’ve seen over the years, forest carbon has been worth $5 a ton. And in this one, subject to meeting best practice, they’ve gone to $10. So overnight we doubled the price of forest carbon. It gives a lot of hope to all the other forest nations,” he said. 

In a statement, CAFI said the deal will allow Gabon to achieve its goal of preserving 98 percent of its existing rainforest for the future. Across Central Africa, forests store as much as 70 billion tons of carbon which is equal to 5 to 10 years of global greenhouse gas emissions, CAFI said. The African forest is the second-largest rainforest in the world, sometimes called “Earth’s second lung”

White said the agreement is part of a larger effort by Gabon to preserve its forests. Ten years ago, the country made headlines by announcing an end to raw timber exports. Although logging continues for processed wood products and domestic use, it is done in a sustainable way, White said.

“We’ve doubled the number of forestry jobs and we’re opening new processing plants pretty much every month. And so that measure is starting to pay off. And what we’re finding is that we can make more money and create more jobs by exploiting less,” he said.

He added that this is a strong reversal of centuries of exploitation of natural resources on the African continent by Europeans.

“If you look at the history of the continent it’s been about ripping out cheap natural resources and sending it to other parts of the world to develop,” White said. “So Africa fueled the Industrial Revolution. Africa has fueled part of China’s rise and in economic terms. And so the first component of it is to make the use of our natural resources indigenous to transform things locally.”