YAOUNDE - The developed world should pay African countries to preserve their vast forests to help the fight against climate change, some of the continent's governments will argue at next month's summit in Copenhagen.

The position of the group of equatorial African countries -- home to the world's second-largest rainforest after the Amazon -- underscores rifts between industrialized nations responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions and the developing world seeking compensation to keep development in check.

African countries of the Congo Basin are not part of the problem, but they are part of the solution by preserving the rainforest which acts as a defense against global warming, said co-chair of the Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF) and former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.

In so doing, they deprive millions of their people who depend on the forest for their livelihoods. The rest of the world, particularly the industrialized North, must recognize this and understand that somebody has to pay the price for preservation, he said.

The Congo Basin forests cover an estimated 200 million hectares and provide food, shelter and livelihood for more than 50 million people.

CBFF is associated with the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, a U.N. registered group with ten member states -- Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe.

According to the CBFF, the forests have been storing an estimated 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, offsetting about 1.7 percent of global emissions of the gas widely blamed for global warming.

But growing populations, expanding subsistence agriculture, road construction, mining and rising Asian demand for hardwood lumber have intensified pressure on the Congo Basin, which has been depleted at a rate of 1 percent per year.

Last month, the group representing the Central African states warned they would not endorse any agreement on climate if the international community does not provide adequate compensation for preserving the forests.

Developed countries have the moral obligation to ensure proper compensation to countries and populations that are being denied access to their natural resources, said Cameroon's forestry and wildlife minister Elvis Ngolle Ngolle.

Beyond acting as a sink for carbon dioxide emissions, the Congo Basin forests also contain the most diverse grouping of plants and animals in Africa, including rare and endangered species.

Brazil, home to a large chunk of the Amazon rainforest, is also lobbying for a mechanism in the global climate talks that would reward forest preservation.

(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Janet Lawrence)