Daniel A. Reifsnyder
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Yaounde, Cameroon
November 12, 2009

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be here with you to talk about the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, and to see many friends who were with us in Washington in September as well. I would like also to thank the government and the people of Cameroon for their warm hospitality, in particular, Minister Elvis Ngolle Ngolle.

This is my fourth trip to the Congo Basin in the past two years, and I am always impressed with the beauty of the region and the warmth of its people.

Equally impressive is the extent to which this partnership – which we and many of our partners here launched only seven years ago – has grown, including new partners such as the UK and Norway. We hope the partnership will include China some day and we look forward to engaging with them. And we have been pleased to see the CBFP thrive under the excellent leadership of COMIFAC and the French and German facilitators, and we look forward to Canada's leadership as the next facilitator.

Most importantly, the partnership has supported key achievements: the development of national parks and other protected areas, stronger forest concession management, and improved capacity for community management of local resources. In our view, the CBFP now serves as a leading example for the conservation and sustainable management of other major ecosystems of global importance.

But the partnership can and should do more to promote the conservation and sustainable management of the Congo Basin's forest ecosystems.

For our part, United States is committed for the long-term. Our CBFP investments so far – totaling more than $120 million since 2002 – have focused on putting 65 million hectares of tropical forest under improved management planning across vast landscapes that transcend national boundaries and involve hundreds of communities.

Money aside, we have committed our time and our people. We have several American staff working in the region on forests, such as our Kinshasa-based USAID Central African Regional Program for the Environment, whose staff have spent many years working closely with Central Africans to understand the region, its leaders, its communities, and its needs.

Central African government leaders have asked us to provide direct assistance to governments, and we are responding to that request in the most effective way possible: through our people and through partnership. We are working directly with COMIFAC to initiate a partnership to provide training and capacity building, tapping into the experience of our U.S. Forest Service. We provide training for thousands of conservation managers in the region, and support targeted opportunities for exchange in the United States through our International Visitors program. In addition to bilateral assistance, we provide support to governments and other actors through multilateral funds: the Global Environment Facility, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank.

Our national contributions aside, in the view of the United States, the operative word for the CBFP has always been "partnership," where everyone can and should make a contribution and play an active role.

As President Obama observed on his first trip to Africa, the true sign of success for the United States will not be simply whether we provide assistance. The true sign of our success is whether we are partners in building Africa's capacity for transformational change.

Those standards – "partnership," "transformational change" – are the measures by which we evaluate the effectiveness of our investments here. They are the measures we use to weigh the value of our investments in this region against competing needs elsewhere in the world and at home in the United States.

The State of the Forest Report is one excellent example of partnership and transformational change at work. The incredible regional and international cooperation that went into planning, pooling information, and publishing the 2008 State of the Forest Report is the type of collaboration that reflects the reality and the potential of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. It also draws together and highlights the best of science and research in the region, providing an important tool to support the conservation and sustainable management of the region's ecosystems.

The State of the Forest Report helps illustrate how, through the CBFP, partners can achieve more together than alone. That is the point of partnership. And that is the path to transformational change. Together, we can and do use this partnership to promote better natural resource management, and in so doing, to advance the rule of law and regulatory reform, build civil society, develop effective governance, science and research capacity, and on-the-ground management.

In other areas, though, success has been less clear. For example, we all have been talking for many years about increasing tourism to the Congo Basin, but attracting tourism requires far more than designating parks and protected areas. It requires countries to provide a certain standard of safety, convenience, and accommodation for visitors. These challenges lie beyond the scope of forest ministries, donors and non-governmental organizations, and require long-term strategic planning and cooperation across sectors.

As a second example, we see COMIFAC as a critical regional body. From its inception, the CBFP was intended to complement the efforts Central African leaders had already undertaken through the Yaoundé Declaration, the creation of COMIFAC, and the Plan de Convergence. We had hoped to see support from every country in the region materialize, to make COMIFAC a self-sustaining body, but so far, those hopes have not been realized. What, if anything, can CBFP partners do to encourage governments in the region to financially support COMIFAC? Nevertheless, we were encouraged this morning by the remarks from Minister Bizot of the Central African Republic, and the remarks by Minister Ngolle Ngolle of Cameroon.

We need to think more strategically about how to tackle these and other problems as equal partners, not as donors and recipients. In so doing, we will continue to look to Central Africans – governments, communities and civil society at every level – to provide strategic vision and leadership. Without that, it is clear that no amount of effort on our part will lead to transformational change.

As we prepare for Copenhagen next month, the United States is committed to including REDD-plus in an agreed outcome. In our view, effective governance, law enforcement, environmental integrity, transparency, comprehensiveness, and efficiency are fundamental to making REDD-plus work, and that will require commitment and political will from the leaders here today. The CBFP, together with COMIFAC, must marshall that commitment and will.

As all of us here know, much remains to be done to address the drivers of deforestation and degradation in Central Africa. But the potential is also considerable for economic growth and development of livelihoods through sustainable management of forests. The keys lie in partnership – real partnership – and rock solid political will and commitment from all corners to transform challenges into opportunities, and to achieve what we all wish for the region: healthy ecosystems and, ultimately, secure and prosperous people.

Thank you for your attention.