The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo and his government seem willing to sacrifice vast forest areas for oil. It would be a disaster for people, biodiversity and the global climate. The DRC will be co-hosting the next UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, with Egypt.
The rainforests of the Congo Basin are home to millions of people and countless animal and plant species, including three great apes: chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas. They are a treasure trove of biodiversity and crucial to the fight against climate change.
Despite this, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) plans to auction 16 oil blocks. The blocks cover some of the last remaining intact forests on earth. Three of them overlap the Cuvette Centrale peatlands, one of the world’s largest carbon sinks estimated to store 30 billion tons of carbon, the equivalent to one years’ worth of global emissions. Nine oil blocks overlap protected areas. At 145,500 square kilometres, the peatlands of the Cuvette Centrale (roughly translated as Central Basin) are larger than England. The Congo Basin rainforest is the second largest contiguous tropical forest in the world after the Amazon rainforest.
With more than half of the Congo Basin’s peatlands and 60 percent of its rainforest, DRC plays a key role in the fight against the climate crisis. The remaining parts are located in the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.
The governments of the world must cut carbon emissions in half within the next eight years. In his speech at the UN’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, President Tshisekedi promoted the vital role of the Congo Basin forests in regulating the global climate and his intention to enhance DRC’s energy mix by “combining several types of energy: biomass, hydro, solar.” The cost of not doing so, he said, would be a climate crisis. The contradiction of drilling for oil in peatlands while presenting itself as a “solution country” is particularly glaring, as the DRC will be co-hosting the next UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, with Egypt.
The oil plan not only undermines global efforts and threatens the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming. It also threaten the livelihoods of thousands of local, mostly indigenous communities. The DRC government would not be solely responsible for this, but also involve oil companies, banks, insurance companies and the consumers of the oil, among others.
The world cannot afford any further expansion of oil and gas. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an immediate end to new investment in fossil fuel supply projects is the first requirement to keep global warming below 1.5°C and achieve global net zero emissions by 2050. Beyond the extraction of oil, roads, bridges and workers’ settlements would lead to the destruction of rainforest.