The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to one of the world’s largest tropical forests, covering half of its total area. Regarded as the world’s second green lung after the Amazon rainforest, this rich forest of ecosystems and unique flora and fauna is now threatened by the government of DRC granting oil exploration licenses through the Ministry of Hydrocarbons. According to data from the Global Forest Watch, the DRC lost 1.31 million hectares of natural forest in 2020 alone.
This Central African giant also has significant concentrations of hydrocarbons in its soils, and recently launched an international tender for 16 oil blocks and 3 gas blocks in an effort to develop this sector: the Coastal Basin (3 blocks), the Cuvette Centrale (9 blocks) and the Tanganyika Graben (4 blocks), thus threatening, among others, national parks such as Salonga and Virunga and other protected areas for nature conservation. This is in line with the government’s directive expressed by the Minister of Hydrocarbons to increase production capacity by tenfold, from the current 22,000 barrels per day to at least 200,000 barrels per day.
These investments in hydrocarbons, seen as a windfall by the Congolese authorities, are not only harmful to the environment, but also cause substantial impacts on local communities and indigenous populations, particularly in terms of health complications, massive displacements, expropriations and the disruption of their socio-economic activities. After making huge profits, oil companies leave behind bare, impoverished and polluted sites, to the great anguish of the local populations who do not benefit at all from the extractive oil business.
Alarming scientific reports that continue to be ignored…
In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that temperatures have generally increased by 1.1°C since the beginning of the industrial era, fearing that the critical threshold of 1.5°C of the Paris Agreement will already have been reached by 2030. According to the report, massive concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, emitted by the burning of fossil fuels, are the primary causes of global warming. Despite the urgent need to change the energy system, and the huge environmental and social risks of oil and gas extraction, the so-called oil and gas exploration ‘development’ projects are still emerging all over the world, fueled by the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.
Already facing serious social and environmental challenges, the government seems determined to become involved in oil and gas exploration. This choice is not only irrational but also insensitive to people and their living conditions, ecosystems and the climate. Oil exploration activities will only exacerbate the impacts of the climate crisis, contribute to environmental destruction on the vast protected areas as well as affect the livelihoods of riverside communities who depend on other sustainable resources and activities of these parks. According to a 2013 report by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, investments in renewable energy production, fishing and ecotourism could generate $1.1 billion annually, and create 45,000 permanent jobs for the Congolese state. In 2020, Virunga National Park generated more than US$81 million from tourism, electricity and agricultural activities, according to a report presented at the 4th Virunga Alliance Forum.
What about the DRC’s climate leadership?
The Congolese government is an ally of its citizens and should act in the best interests of its people by protecting them and creating opportunities that benefit the livelihoods of communities and protect the natural resources of the region rather than favoring the interests of oil exploration companies. The DRC must relentlessly pursue these greenhouse gas reduction targets set for 2030 in its Nationally Determined Contributions. As DRC is planning to host the Preliminary Conference of the Parties on climate change (Pre-COP27), it must set a good example in the fight against the climate crisis. In this regard, solutions such as access to clean energy and commitments to climate change mitigation must guide efforts to develop renewable energy sources.
We call on the government to respect and enforce the laws of the Republic as well as international conventions on environmental protection and community rights. This includes prioritizing investments in renewable energy and access to basic clean energy services. The government should also prioritize promoting alternative economic activities in protected areas that guarantee the sustainable development of local economies while protecting the environment and safeguarding people’s lives and livelihoods.
Christian Hounkannou, Regional Organizer, 350Africa.org
Bantu Lukambo, Director of IDPE (Innovation for the Development and Protection of the Environment)