The Democratic Republic of Congo’s plan to sell oil exploration blocks by July threatens to disrupt some of the world’s most important carbon sinks and could ruin a $500 million forest preservation agreement.
Some of the oil blocks, estimated to contain about 16 billion barrels of crude reserves, overlap with the biggest tropical peat lands that covers around 145,000 square kilometers (56 000 square miles) and store about 30 billion tons of carbon equivalent to about 82% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions. So-called carbon sinks help allay greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels and other activities.
Protecting the wetlands and the wider Congo Basin tropical rainforest was the subject of one of the landmark agreements of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year. Under the pact with the Central African Forest Initiative, the Democratic Republic of Congo will get the funding over five years, provided it meets the agreed milestones.
In an emailed response to questions, Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) says “this letter of intent commitment will begin with a comprehensive analysis of the extent to which mining, oil and gas titles overlap with, or impact on protected areas, high value forests and peat lands, adding that donors are working closely with the DRC government to ensure that the commitments outlined in the letter of intent are met.”
CAFI is a partnership created in 2015 between a partnership of European countries, the European Union, South Korea, the United Kingdom as well as the six Congo Basin nations which are Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. It seeks to control deforestation in the region.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government said in May about the block tenders that the geology, geography and environment experts from the Ministry of Hydrocarbons have worked meticulously on the selection of the oil blocks, taking into the account the environmental sensitivities and the desire of the head of state is to consider the exploitation of the oil resources of the DRC but also the protection of nature.
Under the agreement with the CAFI partnership, Congo has committed to placing 30% of its area under protection status and restoring 8 million hectares (19.8 million acres) of degraded land and forests. The mineral-rich country will also stop mining and hydrocarbon extraction in protected areas if it leads to deforestation, according to the letter of intent. The Congo Basin is the world’s second-biggest tropical forest, just after the Amazon.
The government said the oil block auctions will be held on July 28 and July 29. However, the international project leader for the Congo Basin Forest for Greenpeace Africa, Irene Wabiwa Betoko, said the ecosystems and drill into the carbon bomb of peatlands is a historic error that must be scrapped immediately.
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