Gabon

LOCATED IN CENTRAL Africa, the Republic of Gabon was formerly a French colony and has land borders with Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of the Congo. Gabon has a land area of 103,347 sq. mi. (267,668 sq. km.), with a population of 1,384,000 (2005 est.), and a population density of 13.5 people per sq. mi. (5.2 people per sq. km.).

Some 80 percent of the country is covered in forests, with a small lumber industry operating to harvest mahogany, ebony, and walnut. Only 1 percent of the land is arable, with 18 percent used for meadows and pasture. In spite of significant oil production, 70.6 percent of the electric power in Gabon comes from hydropower, with the remainder from fossil fuels. This use of fossil fuels, largely liquid fuels or gaseous fuels, contributes to the country's carbon dioxide emissions. In 1990, Gabon generated 6.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita, but it fell considerably, to only 2.9 metric tons per person in 1991, afterwards rising slightly. Emissions fell again dramatically in 1998 to 1.3 metric tons, and by 2003 were only 0.91 metric tons. Much of the remaining emissions come from use of automobiles, leading to a small level of carbon monoxide emissions. Some emissions also come from cement manufacturing, which in 1998 accounted for 9 percent of the country's total carbon emissions.

This reduction in carbon dioxide emissions remains one of the most dramatic in the world, and came through investing heavily in hydropower. The government had also built the Transgabonais railway during the oil boom, with the first trains taking passengers in 1986. There is also a good bus service covering most of the country. The French Atomic Energy Commission discovered, in 1977, a prehistoric natural "nuclear reactor," which was located in an open-pit uranium mine at Oklo in the upper Ogooue River Valley in Gabon.

The Gabonaise government of Omar Bongo took part in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change signed in Rio de Janeiro in May 1992, and two years later ratified in the Vienna Convention. Gabon was the 166th country to sign the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which took place on December 12, 2006. The government has begun a program of establishing 13 national parks, with the plan that ecotourism could replace logging entirely as a source of income for the country.

SEE ALSO: Emissions, Cement Industry; Nuclear Power; Oil, Production of.

BIBLioGRAPHY. "Gabon—Climate and Atmosphere," www. earthtrends.wri.org (cited October 2007); Francis Legault, "Reforestation in the Republic of Gabon," Studies in Third World Societies (v.13, 1980); "A Natural Fossil Nuclear Reactor," Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (v.33/2, 1977); Roger Naudet, "The Oklo Nuclear Reactors: 1800 Million Years Ago," Interdisciplinary Scientific Review (March 1976); David Quammen, "Saving Africa's Eden," National Geographic (v.204/3, 2003).

JUSTIN CORFIELD Geelong Grammar School, Australia

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