DRC Oil Block Auction Undermines Africa’s Climate Goals



FILE – This December 11, 2016 photo shows Virunga National Park, taken from the crater rim of Nyiragongo volcano and looking over the crater of another extinct volcano, in North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of congo. Several oil and gas fields in the DRC, including some in the park, are being auctioned from Thursday July 28, 2022, sparking outrage from environmental groups. (Juergen Baetz/dpa via AP, file)


Sections of a renowned peatland rainforest in the Congo Basin that plays a crucial role in Africa’s climate system are being auctioned for oil and gas in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday.

The DRC government will auction 30 blocks of oil and gas in the Cuvette-Centrale peatlands in the Congo Basin forest – the largest tropical peatland in the world. Peatland soils are known as ‘carbon sinks’ because they hold huge stores of carbon that are released into the atmosphere when the ecosystem is disturbed.

Some of the areas, or blocks, marked for oil leasing are within Africa’s first iconic conservation area, Virunga National Park, established in 1925 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the last stronghold of mountain gorillas.

The Congo Basin covers 530 million hectares (1.3 billion acres) in Central Africa and accounts for 70% of the continent’s forest land. It is home to over a thousand species of birds and more primates than any other place in the world, including the great apes: gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.

People are also at risk. Members of the Mbuti and Baka peoples could be displaced or expelled.

The decision by Congo-Kinshasa’s Ministry of Hydrocarbons has angered environmentalists and climate activists who say oil drilling will pose significant risks to a continent already inundated by the harsh weather effects. The Center for International Forest Research puts the enormous Cuvette-Centrale carbon sink at 145,000 square kilometers (56,000 square miles) and said it stores up to 20 years the equivalent of the carbon emissions emitted by United States.

Other blocks the DRC plans to auction include some located on Lake Kivu, Lake Tanganyika and one in a coastal region along the Albertine-Grabben region on the western side of the Rift Valley system. East African.

“These are the last refuges of natural biodiversity,” and our last carbon sinks, said Ken Mwathe of BirdLife International in Africa. “We must not sacrifice these precious natural assets to harm development.”

The auction of part of the Congo Basin rainforest, which accounts for 5% of the world’s rainforests, comes barely a week after the International Union for Conservation of Nature organized the first World Conservation Areas Congress. protected areas of Africa in Kigali, Rwanda. There, participants decided to strengthen the protection of key biodiversity hotspots in Africa.

The DRC is one of 17 nations in the world classified as “megadiverse”. Last September, at the World Conservation Congress meeting in France, 137 resolutions dubbed the “Marseille Manifesto” highlighted the important role the Congo Basin should play in the global commitment to protect 30% of the Earth. by 2030.

Last year, at the UN climate conference COP26, a dozen donors, dubbed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, pledged some $1.5 billion “to work collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030”.

The Democratic Republic’s carbon sponge is also threatened by large-scale logging, agricultural expansion and the planned diversion of Congo River waters to shrinking Lake Chad.


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