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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2003

Meeting of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership

Jeffry M. Burnam, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment
Remarks at a Meeting of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership
Paris, France
January 22, 2003

I would first like to extend very deep appreciation to the Government of France for their hard work and very generous hospitality in hosting this important meeting. On September 4, 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell launched the Congo Basin Forest Partnership at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Congo Basin Forest Partnership is an initiative that fully recognizes the integral and equal nature of economic development, social development and environmental protection in the quest for sustainable development.

The United States, along with our co-facilitator and WSSD host South Africa, are deeply honored to be here in Paris with our many partners to harness the energy and commitments of the Congo Basin Forest Partners into a long-term plan for the conservation and development of the remarkable wildlife and forest resources of the Congo Basin to help the peoples who depend upon these resources for their livelihood.

At this meeting of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, we will review our commitments and accomplishments to date. More importantly, we will discuss how our plans for the future can be best coordinated and monitored.

We would not be here today without the strong support and commitment of the people and governments, and especially of the forest and environmental ministers of our African Partners in the region: Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo. I would also like to pay tribute to the civil society and private sector organizations that have for many years been working with each other and with these governments in a truly unprecedented way. What these governments and these partners have already done is the true origin and inspiration for the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. I applaud your leadership and your vision and we will continue to look to our partner countries of the Congo Basin for your leadership and vision.

The forest summit in Yaounde, Cameroon in March 1999 is the foundation for what we are building upon today. The Yaounde Declaration set forth firm political commitments, such as the creation of new forest protected areas; plans to combat illegal logging and illegal poaching of wildlife: broadened application of sustainable forest management strategies; establishment of a new trans-border conservation initiative between Cameroon Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon which protects 3.5 million hectares of forest; recognition and endorsement of the bold act to create a one million hectare tri-national park by Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Congo-Brazzaville; and the creation of two new forest reserves in Cameroon. This level of regional accomplishment is rare for any sector of government -- political or economic. In the forest sector it is -- quite frankly – a magnificent accomplishment. It is courageous and inspiring!

The Yaounde Declaration was the largest but certainly not the only step toward what was quickly evolving into a convergence of initiatives. For example, in the Association Technique Internationale des Bois Tropicaux and the structure of its four commissions, on forests, wood and industry, standards and uses, and transport, and from its 200 members we can see the strength of pluralism and detect the beginnings and the basic elements that have led to the Congo Basin Forest Partnership.

The Congo Basin Forest Partnership also builds upon existing programs in the region that have already achieved important results. Among them are COMIFAC, CEFDHAC, ECOFAC and CARPE, and the programs of IUCN, the ITTO, and the World Bank. The Yaounde Declaration and these programs suggested that a more comprehensive approach was not only desirable and possible, but inevitable and necessary.

Of particular note was the regional work of international conservation organizations, working with the countries of the region and within the programs and processes I have just noted. I would like to recognize in particular the outstanding efforts of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International, as well as the World Resources Institute, Forest Trends, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Jane Goodall Institute. Their efforts in conjunction with our other partners raised the level of our consciousness, and they set a high standard that we must all meet if we truly wish to acknowledge the magnitude of our task.

Within the United States and I would suspect worldwide, Michael Fay’s 440 day trek through the Congo Basin was fully documented by National Geographic. This historic “Megatransect” has, more than any one event, brought home to those who have never journeyed there the rich heritage of the Congo Basin and its biological and ecological diversity. Recently Michael Fay has worked with President Omar Bongo to help fashion the President’s breathtaking declaration of a new national park system for Gabon. We are pleased that Michael is here and in good health today after his close encounter with an elephant in Gabon.

The United States is also pleased that forest industries -- including the American Forest and Paper Association and professional societies such as the Society of American Foresters -- will be bringing their technical expertise and their financial resources to assist the Congo Basin countries in developing forest management capacity.

I must also applaud the role of South Africa and its catalytic role in helping to form the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. I truly believe that if it were not for South Africa’s intervention we would not be here today.

In the next two days we will hear what we as partners have done, what we are doing, and what we plan to do. We will commit ourselves to sustaining the momentum, building the linkages and harnessing our energies in a common cause.

We, in the United States, have taken the occasion of the launching of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership to enhance and restructure our governmental programs so that we can better meet the challenge. The United States will focus upon eleven key landscapes and is committed to helping develop a network of effectively managed national parks, protected areas and corridors; to help stop illegal logging and illegal trade in wildlife and other unsustainable practices; to implement programs to improve forest management; and to help people obtain sustainable forest-based livelihoods such as, for example, employment through ecotourism, wildlife law enforcement, reduced impact logging, park management and many other economic and conservation opportunities. Our other partners have also expanded their commitments and have agreed to bring important new resources to the table.

There is much to do over the next 48 hours, and answers to the questions to be considered tomorrow are going to be ongoing challenges. Once we identify the gaps between needs and actions, can we cooperate and increase our efficiencies so that the whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts? Are we prepared to be bold and to work as a team, sharing facilities and resources, and cutting red tape so that we maximize results in the field? How do we intend to add partners and resources to the Partnership while remaining flexible and responsive? And most important of all, how can we prevent the Congo Basin Forest Partnership from becoming just one more international talk shop?

We must increase and sustain the momentum of the Partnership and monitor its achievements and deficiencies so that we can prove results and move forward dynamically to achieve our common and individual goals. That is the challenge facing us in the next days, months and in the many years in which I am confident this Partnership will grow and thrive. My government -- and I suspect all of the Congo Basin Forest Partners -- expect measurable, concrete results.

The United States chose to launch the Congo Basin Forest Partnership because the forests and wildlife of the Congo Basin are of global significance, because these forests are a major factor in the social, economic and environmental health of our Congo Basin country partners, and because there was already an impressive structure of cooperation between governments, NGOs and the private sector operating in the region on which this partnership could be built. As Secretary Powell has said:

“For the United States, this is money well spent. We don’t ask for one thing in return. There is no political angle, just a geostrategic angle to it. We are doing it because it is the right thing to do!”  And, as Secretary Powell has also said, ”we are in it for the long run.”


Released on January 23, 2003

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