At COP26 last year, whereby activists poured onto the streets to urge governments to do more about our climate crisis, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) President Felix Tshisekedi signed a US$500 million deal to protect the country’s rainforest. See, the Congo Basin rainforest is crucial to the African continent’s ecosystem since it regulates rainfall all the way to Egypt and is the only rainforest that takes in more carbon than it emits. The northern peatlands, for example, store the equivalent of about three years worth of global emissions from fossil fuels.
Now, despite outcries from environmental groups like Greenpeace Africa, the DRC will move forward with plans to auction off blocks of its rainforest for gas and oil drilling permits. Some of these blocks also overlap with Virunga National Park, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas and a Unesco World Heritage site. Basically, the DRC doesn’t seem to be acting in the spirit of that agreement they made at the COP26 climate conference.
And it doesn’t look like that COP26 deal could block the auctions either. Instead, this auction seems to be a reversal of the 10-year protection pledge made by DRC.
“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," DRC hydrocarbons minister Didier Budimbu told The Guardian.
“The immediate price will be paid by Congolese communities, who are not aware of the auction, have not been consulted or informed of the risks to their health and livelihoods. Many of them will rise up against it–and we shall stand with them," said Irene Wabiwa Betoko, International Project Leader for the Congo Basin Forest at Greenpeace Africa.
“Oil development risks social unrest, as seen in the Niger Delta. Conflict in the center 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 canceled," said Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London and global expert on the DRC’s peatlands.