BREAKING: Upemba National Park under Oil Threat

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Cabinet of Minister has approved the auction of 16 oil blocks, including in one of the world’s largest carbon sinks and most environmentally sensitive areas. And if that was not enough they seem to be targeting Lake Upemba, inside of Upemba National Park. Despite the “good words” of the Hydrocarbon minister Didier Budimbu saying that protected areas won’t be touched in this round, all seems to point out that the only areas that they don’t want to target “yet” are World Heritage sites, Salonga and Virunga. However trampling with national law, with the protection of key biodiversity hotspots, water resoucres and the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen does not seem to be an issue for the Minister.

As we can read in the notes of the 48th meeting of the ministers, Moero and Upemba, both lakes are named as 2 of the 16 blocks to be auctioned by the DRC government in July.

The minister says : “I appeal to all those who would like to invest in this sector to approach my ministry, which is ready to support them in complete transparency. I would also like to point out that no block is located in protected areas, in our parks, and is concerned by these calls for tenders.. (1) “ If that is the case and the minister wants to act in all transparency and wants to reassure possible investors that none of the blocks is in protected areas, then it will be important to clarify the boundaries and precise location of the so called Upemba block.

DR Congo approves auction of oil blocks in one of the world’s largest carbon sinks 

At least three of 16 oil blocks earmarked for drilling overlap with the world’s largest tropical peatland complex, posing a double threat to the climate

By Chloé Farand

Cabinet ministers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have approved the auction of 16 oil blocks, including in one of the world’s largest carbon sinks and most environmentally sensitive areas.

Nine of the blocks are located in a region of the Congo Basin known as the Cuvette Centrale, an area about a third of the size of California which is home to the world’s largest tropical peatland complex. At least three of the blocks up for auction directly overlap with the peatlands, according to the Rainforest Foundation UK.

Scientists estimate the peatlands store the equivalent of three years of global CO2 emissions.

Left undisturbed, this tropical peat swamp forest is likely to remain a carbon sink and counteract some global heating. But if the peat is drained or the land converted to other use, it could become a significant source of emissions.

Inviting big oil into the Congo Basin would have “cataclysmic consequences for the global climate and local communities,” said Greenpeace Africa.

“The plan for big oil companies to trash Congo’s most sensitive ecosystems is a historic error that must be scrapped immediately,” added Irene Wabiwa Betoko, the NGOs’ international project leader for the Congo Basin forest for Greenpeace Africa.

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Oil production in DRC is currently limited to 25,000 barrels per day, all of which is exported. Minutes from the cabinet meeting on 8 April show the government is hoping to increase production to bolster its revenues.

The country has the second largest crude oil reserves in central and southern Africa after Angola.

Oil majors including Total and Eni already have concessions in the Cuvette Centrale region, although no exploration has taken place so far. In 2019, Total’s CEO Patrick Pouyanné told local journalists the company was willing to undertake seismic surveys in the region to “help Congo to evaluate its resources”.

In an overview of the country’s oil and gas sector published at the end of last year, the US International Trade Administration said “there is room” for American companies with “experience in complex and fragile environments to establish a foothold in the DRC”.

Campaigners say oil drilling in the DRC’s forests contradicts the government’s plan to become a “solution country” to climate change, by storing carbon in its forests and generating energy from hydropower in the Congo River and its tributaries.

A major UN science report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this month warned that an expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure will lock in high emissions, blowing past international temperature goals.

The planned tender for new oil blocks comes amid serious concerns over the government’s ability to control deforestation in the word’s second largest rainforest.

scathing audit published last month implicated six former ministers in the allocation of at least 18 illegal concessions.

Meanwhile, deforestation levels have plateaued at nearly half a million hectaresof primary forest loss a year since 2016 – an area about three times the size of London.

Joe Eisen is executive director of the Rainforest Foundation UK, which is working to establish community-based forest management in the country. He told Climate Home oil exploitation in the Congo Basin would be “an unmitigated disaster for the climate and hundreds of forest-dependent communities in the peatlands and elsewhere”.

The recent developments in DRC’s forest sector have put international donors in an uncomfortable position. At the last round of UN climate talks, UK, South Korea, Norway and several EU member states pledged $500m over five years to protect the country’s forest through the Central African Forest Initiative (Cafi).

The deal with Cafi doesn’t explicitly call for a ban in oil drilling in the peatlands but in protected areas where it is incompatible with conservation objectives. The money further hinges on the publication of an analysis by the end of 2023 to determine the extent to which mining and oil concessions overlap with or impact protected areas and high-value forests and peatlands.

Eisen told Climate Home the prospect of oil drilling in DRC’s peatlands raised serious questions about the efficacy of the $500m forest protection agreement signed at Cop26 in Glasgow, UK.

“The DR Congo badly needs development but of a kind that benefits both people and the planet,” he said.

Source: Climate Change News

Oil exploration in the DRC: economic boon or ecological disaster?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued an alarming report on climate change. This report indicates that temperatures have generally increased by 1.1°C since the start of the industrial age. Some experts fear that the critical threshold of 1.5°C that states, by signing the Paris agreement, have committed not to exceed, will already be reached by 2030 – despite any effort to mitigate the risks of climate change. The concentrations in the air of methane and carbon dioxide emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels are the primary causes of climate change It is, therefore, necessary to intervene immediately to reduce our production of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane.

In addition, the past decades have proven that we are not shielded from environmental disasters caused by large oil spills in our waters. There are many examples, whether in America, Europe or Africa. To name but a few, a spill from an oil pipeline caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico last month; and earlier in the year, tons of black tar spilled into the Mediterranean Sea due to a leak in an oil tanker. 

It goes without saying that the damage caused by these accidents will take years to be solved.

Despite the urgent need to change the energy paradigm, and the enormous environmental and social risks of oil and gas extraction, these projects continue to grow everywhere in the world, ignoring the alarming figures presented in the latest IPCC reports. 

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is extremely rich in natural resources, plans to launch a call for tenders by the end of 2021 for 16 oil blocks and 3 gas blocks, in order to develop its sector of hydrocarbons. In the current Congolese context, this is not good news for the environment and local communities – as well as indigenous peoples. Indeed, the DRC is already suffering from alarming deforestation and already has several cases of displaced local communities and indigenous peoples who lost their lands and sources of livelihood due to so-called ‘development projects’. 

Located in central Africa, the DRC is the second largest country in the continent, after Algeria. It is home to one of the most important tropical forests in the world, covering half of its total area and considered the second “green lung” on the planet, after the Amazon rainforest. We should do all we can to protect it. However, according to Global Forest Watch, in 2020 alone, the DRC lost 1.31 million hectares of natural forest. 

The DRC is also one of the richest countries in the world in natural resources. The current distribution of resources and land in the DRC is not only the result of the recent wars (1996-1997 and 1998-2003) which displaced thousands of people and worsened the struggle for land, but also impacted on by the institutions put in place during the Belgian colonization. The Belgian authorities have made the DRC a country whose economy is essentially based on exports, in which the extractive industry plays a key role.

The DRC is one of the largest producers and exporters of cobalt, copper and diamonds. It also contributes to the world markets of a dozen other minerals. The country also contains significant concentrations of hydrocarbons in its soils. The exploration mentioned earlier, should it go ahead, directly threatens the national parks of Salonga and Virunga, intended for the conservation of nature. These mining and hydrocarbon projects are not only harmful to the environment but are also responsible for the extradition and displacement of local communities and indigenous peoples.

In 2019, 10,000 artisanal miners in Lualaba province were evicted from their territories to allow for large-scale mining. Although these artisanal miners found themselves without land and without means of subsistence, they were not compensated in any way. This, despite the adoption of a new mining code in 2018 recognizing the obligation for holders of mining rights to compensate local communities displaced by mining activities (article 281). However, as the case of artisanal miners in Lualaba shows, the implementation of this law remains incomplete.

Similarly, the 2015 law on the hydrocarbons regime provides that contractors will be held responsible for the environmental and social impacts linked to exploration and extraction. However, these provisions remain vague and may not have any effect in practice. Moreover, as demonstrated above, even when the law demonstrates social and environmental innovation, it is seldom properly enforced.

Although the DRC is already facing various environmental and social problems of considerable magnitude, the current government continues to perceive the development of the Congolese hydrocarbon sector as a future contributor to the economic growth of the country. This fully ignores the short-term and long-term risks. 

However, all is not lost and there is still time to prevent the exploration and exploitation of oil in the DRC where an oil spill would have the most devastating consequences, in particular the national parks which contribute to the preservation of biodiversity, ecosystems and forests.

For example, due to campaigns run by some non-governmental organisations such as WWF, the oil exploitation project, located partly in the Salonga Park, has already been abandoned. The same result could be achieved for the Virunga National Park, which remains threatened. To learn more about the Virunga Park and the effects oil exploration and extraction would have on the environment of the national park, produced a short film called Fossil Fuel Free Virunga. Anyone can also sign the petitionlaunched by the same organisation, asking the Congolese government not to distribute oil exploration permits in this territory.

The exploration and exploitation of oil might be perceived as an economic boon by the authorities, but the reality is that it is incompatible with any effort to prevent irreversible damages caused by climate change and man-made disasters.

The Congolese population is already facing serious social and environmental challenges that the government itself is struggling to alleviate on its own. In the light of this, allowing the exploration of oil and gas on the Congolese territory would not only be irrational but also insensitive towards all the people who would have to suffer from the ecological consequences.

Source: Natural Justice