European Parliament: Questions and Answers on Virunga, what next?
How can the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) be considered by the European Commission as properly conducted when one of the oil companies having the biggest oil concession in the Virunga National Park is the entity providing the information to the Government?
Could this be considered the “best tool to inform Government decision-making and therefore the best guarantee for the safeguarding of the Virunga Park (1)”?
Will the European Commission reconsider its position now that the UK government is opposing oil extraction in Virunga National park, Unesco World Heritage?
1. E-003312/2012 / Answer given by High Representative/Vice President Ashton on behalf of the Commission
8 May 2012
Question for written answer
to the Commission
Ivo Belet (PPE)
Subject: Oil exploration in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
It has emerged recently that a consortium of oil companies, including SOCO International, had received permits from the Congolese Ministry of the Environment to carry out exploration in Virunga Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). However, the extraction of oil in that area would pose a serious threat to the precious fauna and flora in the natural park.Virunga National Park is one of the most important nature reserves in central Africa. It is home to a large number of endangered animal species, including a population of rare mountain gorillas. In 1979, Unesco designated Virunga Park a World Heritage Site.Oil extraction in the national park would contravene international agreements, including those signed by Unesco, as well as Congolese legislation. Early last year, Congolese Prime Minister Adolphe Muzito together with Unesco representatives signed a declaration according to which the Congolese Government was going to commit itself to the protection of Virunga Park. The Prime Minister also promised not to allow any oil exploration until the completion, by the end of 2012, of a strategic environmental assessment, which is being financed by the European Union.Despite these agreements, and despite the fact that the European Commission has in the past — as evident from its answer to Written Question E‑001691/2011 — expressed serious concern about possible oil exploration campaigns in the natural park, the Congolese government has still issued a permit to the oil companies to carry out exploration activities.What action is the Commission planning in connection with the exploration activities in Virunga Park in the DRC?Does the Commission feel it is possible to grant aid to the DRC from the international climate funds in exchange for the abandonment of oil exploration in the national park?
Réponse commune donnée par Mr Piebalgs au nom de la Commission
Questions écrites : P-004659/12 , E-004709/12
Dès fin 2010, l’Union européenne et les principaux bailleurs de fonds œuvrant dans le domaine de la conservation en RDC sont intervenus à maintes reprises pour éviter une exploitation pétrolière dans le Parc des Virunga qui soit contraire à la législation congolaise et aux engagements internationaux pris par la RDC.En 2011, l’Union européenne, avec l’approbation des autorités congolaises, a donné son accord pour financer une évaluation environnementale stratégique (EES) de l’exploration-exploitation du pétrole dans l’ensemble du Rift albertin incluant le Parc des Virunga. Ces mêmes intervenants ne manqueront pas d’évoquer ce dossier avec le nouveau ministre issu du récent changement de gouvernement.Aujourd’hui, l’EES est en cours et l’Union européenne, conjointement avec les autres donateurs, suit le processus et apporte une attention particulière aux Virunga. La décision de non-exploitation doit être prise par les autorités et la population congolaises, sur base d’un consentement libre, informé et préalable. Naturellement, le statut environnemental et juridique du Parc des Virunga fait partie des éléments essentiels à analyser dans l’évaluation environnementale stratégique. Une EES menée correctement, outil d’aide à la décision pour le Gouvernement, ainsi que les programmes européens d’appui au Parc sont les meilleures garanties d’assurer la sauvegarde du Parc des Virunga, non pas sous la contrainte internationale, mais par l’analyse d’éléments objectifs qui ressortiront de l’évaluation environnementale stratégique. Il est d’autre part improbable qu’une aide financière momentanée puisse servir efficacement de compensation durable à une éventuelle exploitation des ressources concernées.
Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — Africa’s oldest national park, a World Heritage Area under the Unesco Convention and home to the last mountain gorillas — is under imminent threat. Ignoring the Unesco World Heritage Convention and the country’s own state law, the DRC has issued UK-based oil company SOCO International two permits to start oil exploration in Virunga National Park.These latest development go against a commitment made by the government of the DRC to hold off any further activities until the Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) is fully completed and discussed between the various stakeholders. The SEIA, commissioned and partly funded by the European Union, is due in late 2012.Furthermore, under the 10th European Development Fund, the European Commission currently provides EUR 10 million to support the DRC government through the ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) in conserving and managing the 7 800 km2 park.Is the Commission aware that current and past investments by the international community will largely go to waste should oil exploration commence in the park, as 85 %of Virunga National Park has been included in the oil concessions?
Answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Ashton on behalf of the Commission
In line with its policies for environment and biodiversity preservation, the EU and key donors working in the field of conservation in the DRC have intervened repeatedly since late 2010 to seek to prevent oil exploration in the Virunga National Park which would be contrary to Congolese legislation and international agreements signed by the DRC in relation to the preservation of Unesco World Heritage sites.In early 2011 the EU agreed to fund a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of exploration and exploitation of oil across the Albertine Rift including the Virunga National Park. This assessment is underway and the EU, jointly with other donors, is following the process with a special attention given to Virunga. The assessment will take into consideration the exceptional biological value and the special legal status of the Virunga National Park. A properly conducted environmental assessment will be the best tool to inform Government decision-making and therefore the best guarantee for the safeguarding of the Virunga Park. Heads of Mission have discussed the problem of oil exploration and potential extraction in the Virunga Park with the Congolese authorities who have confirmed publicly that if the strict conditions associated with the exploration permit were not respected by the oil company, the exploration license would be withdrawn. The issue has been raised on several occasions by the EU Head of Delegation with the new government in place since April 2012.
4 October 2013
Question for written answer
to the Commission
Filip Kaczmarek (PPE)
Subject: The Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest national park in Africa. It is also on Unesco’s list of natural world heritage sites. The park is home to hundreds of species of animals, including critically endangered mountain gorillas.
An energy company is planning to begin prospecting for oil. Drilling for oil always poses a major threat to the lives of people and animals, not only from oil spills but also as a result of the scope for serious damage caused by making changes in the park to suit the needs of the oil company — for example by building roads and pipelines. Lake Edward, a vital source of water for the local population, will also be at risk from pollution.
In the face of this grave danger, NGOs are calling for the oil company’s plans to be withdrawn.
Is the Commission aware of this threat to the Virunga National Park?