Since hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015 which resulted in the Paris Climate Agreement, France has become a leading proponent for tropical forest conservation. This effort has included establishing a National Strategy to Combat Imported Deforestation (SNDI) to effectively apply a zero deforestation policy to commodities produced at the expense of forests in the tropics.
One of the key institutions charged with implementing the SNDI abroad is the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), France’s overseas development agency. Since last year, AFD has been putting tens of millions of euros annually toward projects that contribute to conservation and restoration of tropical forests, while also supporting the groundwork for the “zero deforestation” public purchasing policy which is set to take effect in 2022. AFD has also been working to support France’s biodiversity conservation goals.
AFD has a long history of operating in tropical forests, especially in its former colonies and overseas territories. These programs have not always been without controversy—NGOs have alleged that AFD has supported industrial logging companies which contribute to deforestation—but AFD says it has incorporated this criticism as well as findings from research institutions into safeguards it now applies to the projects it finances. Accordingly, AFD’s emphasis around tropical forests in recent years has shifted toward conservation and “sustainable forest management”, which includes establishing forest management plans to reduce the impact of logging operations in places like the Congo Basin, where deforestation is now rising at the fastest rate of any major tropical forest region. AFD is also investing in alternative livelihood programs that aim to expand low carbon development opportunities for local communities.
To provide some context on AFD’s current approaches and priorities, Mongabay spoke with Gilles Kleitz, head of Agriculture, Water and Biodiversity at the French Development Agency. Kleitz comes from a conservation background. He began his career in 1988 in Africa, where he worked for more than a decade on wildlife and ecosystem conservation. Kleitz joined AFD as its Senior Biodiversity Programme Manager in 2009, where he worked for five years until becoming the director of the Parc Amazonien de Guyane, a 3.4-million-hectare national park covering the southern half of French Guiana, France’s forested overseas department in South America. He returned to AFD in September 2018.