Who Will Save Lokolama's Peatlands?

Who Will Save Lokolama's Peatlands?

Lokolama, a small town within the Congo Basin, holds one of the most valuable resources in the world: peat, defined as "the surface organic layer of a soil that consists of partially decomposed organic matter" by the International Peat Society. Its ability to hold 26 times its weight in water without releasing any carbon means peatlands are major carbon sinks. Peat is found in bogs and swamps where a lack of oxygen prevents full decomposition and allows carbon stores to stay put.

According to the New York Times, Lokoloma's swamps are part of a vast network of peatland, "covering over 55,000 square miles of Central Africa and storing more than 30 billion tons of carbon."

CongoPeat: Exploring the Central Congo Basin Peatlands, November 9, 2021.

Why This Matters

Peat is an incredibly valuable resource and one that is only preserved by being left alone. Only making up 3% of the planet’s surface, peatlands can store twice as much carbon as all of Earth's forests. Lokoloma’s peatlands store the carbon equivalent of 20 years worth of US fossil fuel emissions. However, they are threatened by development. Converting peatlands for agricultural purposes, such as palm oil plantations or logging sites, will disrupt and destroy this fragile ecosystem. It takes only a minute to destroy a 1,000 year peat store, after which all of the stored carbon will be released into the air.

Whose Fight Is It?

The community of Lokolama sees the necessity in protecting its peatlands. But, it is frustrated by the imperative that they must do so as it begs the question: who are they really helping? They aren't major contributors to the climate crisis. Tout Va Bien, a member of the neighboring village Penzele, states: "If we cut down the trees, the peatlands will let go of their carbon and it will destroy the world. So if we don't cut them down, what can we expect from the world in return?"

At COP26, $1.5 billion was pledged to protect Central African Peatlands. The money is to be administered by the ​​Central African Forests Initiative trust fund; however, it may take a long time to reach local communities. Meaning current deforestation threats are likely to continue. According to Papy Ekate Ekofo, the minister of environment for Équateur Province, illegal logging is one of the biggest threats to Lokolama's peatlands. "The way they are logging is murder," he said. "If they continue to log like this, the peatlands will be destroyed."

Mongabay: Why is this spot in the Congo attracting so much attention?, December 2, 2020.

PBS: Widespread logging threatens the Congo Basin's critical rainforest, July 24, 2020.