As Wangari Maathai said, “you cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them.”
In the face of unprecedented global uncertainty, ecosystem restoration and protection, especially of carbon sinks like soil, tropical forests, grasslands, oceans, and wetlands, offer natural solutions for mitigating the climate crisis. The United Nations also released a report in 2020 acknowledging that forests must be at the heart of a green recovery from COVID-19.
Forests alone provide a variety of social and ecological benefits, which include food, fresh air, fuel wood, building materials, and medicines. Besides providing habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion, and mitigate climate change. Often referred to as the world’s lungs, forests are considered vital carbon sinks due to their natural ability to absorb and store huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, helping to regulate the earth’s temperature.
However, human activities such as logging, farming, mining, fuelwood extraction, and even the climate crisis are leading to extreme levels of deforestation and forest degradation. As a result, many tropical forests like the Amazon are at risk of losing their ability to store carbon and are transforming from carbon sinks to a carbon source.
Restoring and protecting Africa’s forests
On International Day of Forests 2021, African Climate Reality Project launched a report titled, ‘A people-centred approach to managing Africa’s forests as a carbon sink’. The report reviews the state and distribution of Africa’s tropical forests as crucial carbon sinks. It also identifies the current drivers leading to deforestation and forest degradation, while recommending people-centred practices and policies to sustainably manage forests.
Based on the findings, roughly 23% of Africa is covered by forests. The Congo Basin is the second largest tropical forest in the world and represents 70% of Africa’s total forest cover, holding around 46 billion tonnes of carbon in its above ground biomass, leaf litter and dead wood, and soil. Yet deforestation and forest degradation are on the rise across Africa. In fact, the continent lost an average of 3.94 million hectares of forest every year in the last decade – which is twice the global deforestation rate. With the Amazon expected to lose its ability to store carbon by 2035, Africa’s forests may become one of the world’s most important weapons in the fight against the climate crisis. This World Environment Day, we need to use our voices and choices to help protect and restore Africa’s forests.
World Environment Day Calls for Ecosystem Restoration
World Environment Day is celebrated across the world on 5 June, and the 2021 theme is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ with a call to action to join the #GenerationRestoration. This year’s theme marks the launch of the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Prior to this, calls have been made for governments, organizations, communities and individuals to speak up, take on the ground actions, and engage in restoring degraded lands around the world, and communities and Climate Reality Leaders across Africa are playing their part to restore and protect forests and degraded ecosystems.
African Restoration Stories
Climate Reality Leader, Akufuna Muyunda
Akufuna is a dedicated Climate Reality Leader and African Climate Reality Project’s Southern Africa Regional Coordinator with over 10 years experience facilitating and promoting community-based climate education, building climate resilient communities, empowering young climate leaders, among others. He believes that ecosystem restoration will only be attainable if a holistic systemic approach is used to manage our ecosystems.
About 250,000 to 300,000 hectares of forest cover is lost every year in Zambia due to human activities such as timber production, charcoal production, agriculture, and land use. Akufuna believes high levels of climate illiteracy among citizens is one of the reasons for deforestation and ecosystem degradation.
As a trained African Climate Reality Leader, Akufuna pledged himself to play a role in building a generation of active Zambian citizens that will demonstrate leadership in the care and protection of our ecosystems.
In an effort to support schools, Akufuna engaged with 300 students from Bissell community school, 25km west of Lusaka province, where he facilitated a climate education session on the value of trees, a school debate on the role of young people in the fight against climate change, and planted a total of 20 fruit and shade trees within the school premises. These were grafted fruit trees, meaning they will produce fruits within two to three years from the planting date. The initiative was designed to contribute to the school’s feeding program, so students from vulnerable families are able to access fresh fruits, thereby improving their health and nutrition. Akufuna aims to reach over 3000 students from Kamwala secondary school, Lusaka west secondary school and Lusaka Islamic Cultural and Educational Foundation community school. His aim is to plant 1500 fruit and shade trees by the end of 2021. Among other activities planned is the climate art competition, tree nursery, and community gardens in schools and local communities.
On World Environment Day, Akufuna will feature on a show at Crown TV in Lusaka Zambia to unpack the theme for public awareness.
He has also reiterated his call for the government, civil society organizations, community based organizations, the church, traditional leaders, the private sector community, and private citizens to demonstrate their commitment to ecosystem restoration initiatives by working together. Joint efforts to empower citizens with the knowledge, skills and climate action initiatives aimed at building climate resilient communities must be established and receive the much needed attention from the government and international community.
Climate Reality Leader, Sunday Geofrey
In Central Africa, many organizations and youth are leading initiatives to restore degraded forest and catchment areas. Sunday Geofrey, African Climate Reality Project’s Central Africa Regional Coordinator and Coordinator of Support Humanity Cameroon, has engaged over 250 community volunteers (local and marginalized Mbororo communities) in an initiative to restore 50 hectares of degraded land in Bamunkumbit Community, in the North West of Cameroon. With over 7000 trees planted since 2019 in a region engulfed in armed conflict, this initiative has gained national attention and has been cited by over 5 media houses including National Bi-weekly newspaper; The Cameroon Insider. In 2020, Sunday planted 850 trees on this site as part of African Climate Reality Project’s Sink Our C02 campaign initiative 2020 African Trees Planted.
Climate Reality Leader, Gloria Kasang Bulus
Gloria is an environmentalist concerned about the global destruction of nature and has dedicated her life to promoting environmental ethics, sustainable use of natural resources and preserving the natural environment for future generations. She also champions climate actions supporting women and children, as the most vulnerable to poverty, climate change impacts, including pandemic and other threats, with little capacity to support themselves. She raises awareness on women empowerment, mainstreaming gender in governance, the climate crisis, influencing environmental actions, and confronting the complexities of governance in Nigeria through her NGO, Bridge that Gap Hope for Africa Initiative.
Gloria serves as the West Africa Regional Coordinator for African Climate Reality Project and convener of the Network of Civil Society on Environment (NCSE), a network of individuals, organizations, academia, and media who are concerned about the present state of our environment and passionate about environmental protection under the common goal of enhancing sustainable development and a healthy environment.
Gloria is also an awardee of the Alfredo Sirkis Memorial Green Ring Award presented by former US Vice President, Nobel Laureate and founder of The Climate Reality Project, Al Gore for having demonstrated an exceptional commitment to her role as climate communicator and activist.
Being a passionate climate change advocate and activist, Gloria has been working in climate governance, believing the fight against climate has to do with everyone – and the government has a key role to play in terms of policies and legislation, which is very important to achieve the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to align with the Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Coming from the northern part of Nigeria, which is known to be blessed with rich natural resources and forests in particular, Gloria has noted a change over the years as the country is losing their precious resources, including animal species and rich biodiversity. Concern over the loss of forests in the southern part of Kaduna state in Nigeria has led to an afforestation project that aims to restore some of the forest area in the state. Most forest areas in Kaduna are experiencing deforestation and loss of valuable species, which results in different environmental problems. Due to the intensive farming activities within this region, woodlands have become restricted to ridge mountain tops as previously forested parts have been cleared for agriculture. The Tsonje rainforest in Kaura Local Government area of Kaduna State is the only known site of habitation within Nigeria for the purple-throated Cuckoo-Shrike. It is also one of the two areas where the Red capped Robin-chat and the Yellow-throated Cuckoo can be found.
Noticing a gap in climate change communication in Kaduna state, Gloria with support from another media organization, started a “media roundtable” with journalists to discuss climate issues around the country and the world to improve climate reporting. Through the network of Civil Society in Environment (NCSE), a study will be carried out in Kaduna state to identify the current environmental impacts and will be used to help in decision making processes.
Under the Africa Climate Reality Project, as the West Africa Regional Coordinator, Gloria supports Climate Reality Leaders in the region in taking the lead on climate by organizing a joint 24 Hours of Reality in 2020, tree planting events, and community plastic waste clean ups.
For this year’s World Environment Day, Gloria and the Bridge That Gap Initiative will be taking action with school children, helping them to better understand “Ecosystem Restoration”. They will also screen “Not on Our Soil – A Climate Justice Reality” docuseries for Climate Reality Leaders organised by the Network of Civil Society in Environment. African Climate Reality Project launched the series earlier this year.
How you can take action:
There is a growing need to move from individuals who react to the climate crisis to individuals who act on the climate problem. We need to be action-oriented and collectively protect our forests. Take action today by downloading African Climate Climate Reality Project’s forest report to learn more about Africa’s forests as carbon sinks, and how you can get involved.