When the DRC sells its resources

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has one of the world’s largest rainforests, has been put up for auction. [le 28 juillet] hoping to convert to large tracts of land “The new Eldorado of oil investments”.

These areas, intended for oil and gas drilling, extend into the Virunga National Park [dans l’est de la RDC], the largest gorilla nature reserve in the world. It also absorbs significant amounts of carbon in tropical peat bogs, preventing it from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

“If these regions become drilling sites, we will have to wait for a global climate disaster, we will be powerless in the face of it,” warns Irène Vabiwa, who oversees Greenpeace’s campaigns for the Congo Basin forest from Kinshasa.

Global turn

It’s a complete turnaround. Just eight months after the president’s participation [congolais]Félix Tshisekedi at COP26 in Glasgow and the signing of a decade-long agreement to protect the Congo Basin rainforest, the planet’s second lung after the Amazon rainforest, the government gives the green light to new oil drilling in the middle of the year. fragile ecosystems.

The agreement called for international investments of up to $500 million over the first five years. [493 millions d’euros] to the DRC, one of the poorest countries in the world. But after ratification, the international community redefined its immediate priorities.

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine caused the price of oil to rise and caused the Americans and British to declare an embargo. [à plus ou moins long terme] About Russian oil and gas. [Il y a quelques semaines,] Europeans have adopted a voluntary plan to reduce gas consumption within the Union.

At the same time, Norway, known as one of the leaders in forest protection, is increasing oil production and plans to carry out new offshore drilling. called to increase oil production.

“Two weights, two measures”

The DRC has noted these developments, explains Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, an adviser to the Minister of Hydrocarbons and the country’s environmental negotiator. He assures us that the sole purpose of auctioning off these lands is to fund anti-poverty programs and generate much-needed economic growth for the country. “This is our priority. Our priority is not to save the planet.”

Kinshasa had announced the procedure [d’appel d’offres en vue de l’attribution des permis d’exploration] in a video posted on Twitter in May. Chevron and TotalEnergies, the American and French giants of the sector, were mentioned in the message accompanying the video.

This action has caused the outrage of environmental activists. [Juste avant le lancement de l’appel d’offres,] the government also doubled the bet by increasing the number of blocks to be allocated from 16 to 30; 27 are intended for the oil sector, and 3 for the gas sector. TotalEnergies does not intend to acquire the group, we are assured internally. Despite our requests, representatives of Chevron and other major oil groups refused to comment on the matter.

Many African leaders decry the “double standard” this situation reveals: how can Western countries, which have built their wealth on the exploitation of fossil fuels at the cost of toxic emissions responsible for global warming, demand that African states give up their reserves? coal, oil and gas to protect the rest of the world?

The inevitable Ecuadorian model?

Another question worries many locals whose livelihoods depend on cutting down trees – for trade or cooking. If they decide to protect these carbon sinks that are invaluable to the entire planet, what will they get in return? According to many local politicians, after decades of colonialism and mismanagement, the state must now put Congolese interests above those of the world.

President Tshisekedi has faced some political challenges as he tries to build his country as a bulwark against global warming. The next presidential elections will not take place [qu’à la fin de l’année prochaine]but the atmosphere is already exciting.

As long as there are lands, it is impossible to know what the amounts at risk are [mises aux enchères] Scientists say that seismic imaging – a technique that can cause damage in itself – will not be used.

In May, Hydrocarbons Minister Didier Budimbu announced that the DRC, which currently produces about 25,000 barrels of oil per day, could increase production to 1 million barrels. At today’s prices, that’s $32 billion [31,8 milliards d’euros] per year, that is, more than half of the national GDP.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu assures that countries with natural resources should take inspiration from the Amazon model when Westerners refuse to support them. In 2007, Ecuador’s then-president Rafael Correa created a fund to which the international community could contribute to prevent oil drilling in Yasuní National Park, one of the world’s largest biodiversity reserves. The state had set a goal of about $3.6 billion [près de 3,6 milliards d’euros]but a few years later, the foundation’s donations did not exceed $13 million [12,9 millions d’euros]. Therefore, the Ecuadorian government decided to give the green light to exploration in 2013, and drilling began three years later.

“We are not in danger” Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu reassures, dismissing the idea that the auction will only be an attempt to intimidate the international community with the aim of encouraging countries to increase financial aid to the DRC. “We remain humble, but as a sovereign nation we have the right to implement this project.”

Deforestation and dangerous carbon emissions

Scientists believe that cutting down these areas could result in the destruction of valuable areas of tropical forests and peatlands, one of the planet’s last defenses against rising temperatures.

The use of seismic imaging to locate oil fields would indeed require clearing long trenches and setting off explosive charges. Waste from oil production, containing salt and heavy metals, can upset the balance of the entire Congo Basin ecosystem, as in the Amazon. The construction of roads necessary for the exploitation of oil and gas blocks would also lead to the establishment of new inhabitants in large parts of the equatorial forests, which are still sparsely populated, and therefore to the intensification of logging. Finally, experts fear that peat bogs will dry up, which will cause them to decompose and release the carbon they contain into the atmosphere.

A rapid and massive release of this carbon “Could be a turning point for global climate” Susan Page, professor of physical geography at the University of Leicester in the UK, warns.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu confirms that these wells may exist “with surgical precision” and is carried in a crooked manner to avoid peat fields. He argues that any decision will be consistent with international environmental goals, and that concessions will be preceded by a thorough assessment of the impacts on the ecosystem and local people.

The Greenpeace team went to meet the Congolese living in the respective areas. Irène Vabiwa assures that they will be hostile to drilling and will be ready to show their displeasure.

[Car,] If the sale of oil blocks promises to be extremely profitable, only a few people will benefit from economic growth, which will not reduce poverty.

Hydrocarbons Minister Didier Budimbu with his counterparts in Angola, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, three of the main oil producers on the African continent, especially “understand [leur] politics” and “May the DRC follow the same path” According to the press service of the Ministry.

The curse of oil

But inspired by the model of its neighbors, the DRC could fall into what some call the “curse of oil”: exploitation of the fields will not benefit the Congolese and the economy will be anemic. In Nigeria, for example, oil is the backbone of the national economy, but its production also causes hydrocarbon spills with devastating consequences and widens inequalities. In Equatorial Guinea, the majority of the population lives below the poverty line and does not benefit from the country’s vast oil reserves.

Kinshasa thought long and hard before giving the green light to new drilling, assured government officials, but the decision is clearly not unanimous.

Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu assures that the state may seek to preserve other regions to compensate for the damage caused by drilling in areas such as Virunga National Park, adding that it will be up to the oil companies to cope. park.

It concentrates on: “For the lost 10 hectares, we managed to protect another 20 hectares. Admittedly, the biodiversity will not be as rich, but the DRC is in its own right.”

At a time when public opinion is becoming more aware of environmental issues, what companies might well consider drilling in a gorilla sanctuary? “That’s right, slice Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu. We will see the value people give to these resources.”

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