Sunday, July 24, 2022

Congo can't beat capitalism


The hopes of environmentalists took another disappointment when the DR of Congo authorised oil drilling in supposedly protected forests. The sale raises concerns about the credibility of a forest protection deal signed with the country at Cop26. President Felix Tshisekedi signed a $500m (£417.6m) deal to protect the forest with Boris Johnson on the first day of Cop26 last year.

The Congo basin is the only major rainforest that sucks in more carbon than it emits.  The Congo basin rainforest spans six countries and regulates rainfall as far away as Egypt. Eco-experts have described it as the worst place in the world to explore for fossil fuels.

Hydrocarbons minister Didier Budimbu said the DRC was expanding an auction of oil exploration blocks to include two sites that overlap with Virunga national park, a Unesco world heritage site home to Earth’s last remaining mountain gorillas. Budimbu acknowledged environmental concerns but defended his country’s right to exploits its natural resources. He said revenue from the oil and gas projects was needed to protect the Congo basin forest and to economically develop the country.

“We have a primary responsibility towards Congolese taxpayers who, for the most part, live in conditions of extreme precariousness and poverty, and aspire to a socio-economic wellbeing that oil exploitation is likely to provide for them,” he said, in a piece of hypocrisy and cant. We know it will be only DRC's privileged elite who will benefit. All other Congolese will be ignored as evidenced by the current experience of the pillaging and plundering of the country's natural resources. DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, with nearly three-quarters of its 60 million people living on less than $1.90 a day in 2018. 

The planned sale already included permits in the Cuvette Centrale tropical peatlands in the north-west of the country, which store the equivalent to three years’ global emissions from fossil fuels.

Irene Wabiwa, international project lead for the Congo forest campaign at Greenpeace Africa, said the auction made a mockery of DRC’s efforts to identify itself as a country with solutions for the climate crisis.

“The neocolonial and ever-growing scramble for oil and gas in DRC, which now threatens the Virunga national park, in addition to water sources, peatlands and protected areas, is an eerie example of the unhinged obsession to monetise nature,” she said.

Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London and global expert on the DRC’s peatlands, said, “Opening these forests to oil development will lead to hunting, deforestation, oil pollution, carbon emissions and social conflict. The oil auction is an auction to begin a wildlife, health, climate and human rights catastrophe.” 

Lewis continued, “Oil development risks social unrest, as seen in the Niger Delta. Conflict in the centre of DRC, just a river trip from Kinshasa, could threaten the stability of the government and the whole country. Given that the 1998-2003 Congo war and its aftermath killed more than 5 million people, everything possible should be done to avoid conflict in Congo. The auction should be cancelled.”

DRC to auction oil and gas permits in endangered gorilla habitat | Democratic Republic of the Congo | The Guardian

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