Democratic Republic of Congo invites Big Oil to world’s second-largest rainforest

The DRC government gave the green signal to auction 16 oil blocks in Cuvette Centrale, a sensitive ecosystem in the Congo rainforest, last week

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Friday 15 April 2022
An African forest elephant and a herd of African forest buffaloes congregate at a ‘Bai’ or mineral lick in the Congo rainforest. Photo: iStock

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has approved a plan to auction 16 oil blocks, nine of which fall in the sensitive ecosystem of Cuvette Centrale, in the Congo river basin, the second-largest forested area in the world after the Amazon.

The decision was taken at the 40th meeting of the DRC’s council of ministers last week.

Greenpeace Africa has called out the government, saying that decision would have “cataclysmic consequences” for global climate and local communities. It is also demanding the Congolese government revoke the decision in its meeting April 15, 2022.

“The auction of new oil blocks anywhere is wrong and undermines communities’ right to a healthy environment. The plan for big oil companies to trash Congo’s most sensitive ecosystems is a historic error that must be scrapped immediately,” Irene Wabiwa Betoko, international project leader for the Congo Basin Forest for Greenpeace Africa, said. 

The Cuvette Centrale is located in the centre of the Congo river basin. It is the size of the United Kingdom, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has written. It contains around 30 gigatonnes of carbon, equivalent to 15 years of emissions from the United States, the UNEP added.

According to UNEP, around 75 million people from over 150 distinct ethnic groups depend on the health of this forest that covers much of the Congo Basin peatland complex.

The DRC, the Republic of the Congo and Indonesia signed the Brazzaville Declaration in March 2018 to protect this complex under the leadership of UN Environment and other Global Peatlands Initiative partners, UNEP has noted.

Peatlands are a type of wetland which occur in almost every country and are known to cover at least three per cent of global land surface. The term ‘peatland’ refers to the peat soil and the wetland habitats growing on the surface according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

“Last week, the council largely approved the 2021 proposal by the Ministry of Hydrocarbons on the auctioning of 16 oil blocks, at least nine of which are in the sensitive ecosystem of the Cuvette Centrale,” Greenpeace Africa said in a press note released April 15.

“The science is clear. Governments must halve CO2 emissions by the end of the decade and stop development now of any new fossil fuel project,” it added.

Greenpeace further said in the press note that the decision will also be a hurdle to DRC’s commitment to become a solution country that it had made in August 2021.

“This imperative, as well as DRC’s own commitment to become a ‘solution country’ for climate change, is flouted by inviting big oil into the Congo basin forest,” the press release said.

Eve Bazaiba, deputy prime minister and minister of environment and sustainable development of the DRC had said the country intended to make a fight against climate change.

“The DRC will present itself as a country solution to the problem of global warming. Our contribution to achieving the global temperature mitigation goal of 1.5°C is threefold.

“The first part relates to our forests. Indeed, the DRC contains about 70 per cent of the forests of the Congo basin. Our forests are largely intact and have the necessary capacity to sequester all the pollution from previous and current years emitted throughout the world (sic),” she had said last year.

“Donor countries, which pledged $500 million to protect Congo’s rainforests during the COP26 in Glasgow, are realising the extent of chaos that prevails in the management of these forests. They must now address the shady and dirty plans for replacing rainforests and peatlands with oil,” Betoko added.

Betoko stated that donor countries could support the Congolese government become a country of solutions rather than a producer of new pollution by ramping up investments in renewable energy and expanding plans for community-led forest management.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.