The Slatest

Norway Gives Liberia $150 Million to Stop Cutting Down Trees

Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf addresses the U.N. in 2013.

Ray Stubblebine/Reuters

Norway will provide Liberia with $150 million in development aid in exchange for reducing deforestation. From the BBC

In 2012, [Liberian] President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf attracted international criticism when she handed out licences to companies to cut down 58% of all the primary rainforest left in the country. After protests many of those permits were cancelled…

Now the Norwegians and the Liberian government have signed a deal that they both believe will protect the forests into the future.

The country agrees to place 30% or more of its forest estate under protected area status by 2020. It will also pilot direct payments to communities for protecting the forest.

Norway has made past attempts at this kind of policy in Brazil in 2008, Guyana in 2009, and Indonesia in 2010, and its effectiveness is a matter of some debate. In Brazil, deforestation rates were already on the decline when Norway promised up to a billion dollars in exchange for conservation efforts. After that, however, a controversial reform to forest protection law in the country has been accompanied by a 28% increase in Amazon deforestation between August 2012 and July 2013. Indonesia’s deforestation rate has increased since the agreement with Norway, but some attribute this to a delay necessary for reforms to be implemented. It’s also difficult to know whether deforestation would have risen more in the absence of the Norwegian funds.

While the new agreement provides that Norway will help Liberia develop the infrastructure to police the forests, whether such assistance will be enough to stem corruption is an open question. Natural resource management is generally considered to have improved under the tenure of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who came to power in 2006, three years after a civil war. At the beginning of her presidency, Johnson Sirleaf renegotiated several major contracts with foreign investors to raise safety standards and adjust shares of revenues for workers. However, the president has also been accused of nepotism and criticized for allocating a third of Liberia’s land to investors for logging, mining and industrial agriculture in the first five years of her tenure.

Norway’s agreement with Liberia comes in the midst of the U.N. Climate Summit in New York; it may be worth noting that the petroleum sector is by far Norway’s biggest industry. In 2012, the country was the seventh largest exporter of oil and third largest exporter of gas in the world.