US urges Congo to slow oil and gas push into rainforests

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo — Pushing for a reconsideration of plans by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to auction o...

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo — Pushing for a reconsideration of plans by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to auction off parts of its vast rainforests and peatlands, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced that U.S. and Congolese would form a team to examine oil and gas extraction proposal in these areas.

The agreement was reached on Tuesday during Mr. Blinken’s visit to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. While there, the Secretary of State expressed concern over efforts by the country’s President, Felix Tshisekedi, to auction off vast plots of land, which are essential for climate change mitigation, energy companies for exploration. Mr. Blinken’s remarks It was the first time the US government had taken a public position on the issue.

“We had concerns about the announcement of the auction of these oil and gas exploration blocks,” Blinken said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Some of the boulders encroach on sensitive rainforest and peatland areas, including in Virunga National Park and Salonga National Park.”

He noted that at the United Nations Climate Summit in November in Glasgow, governments made a collective pledge of $1.5 billion to support Congo Basin forests. Mr. Tshisekedi signed the 10-year plan and has been hailed as a leader in climate change mitigation efforts.

His government’s abrupt announcement of the auction in May stunned officials, environmental groups and policymakers around the world. The auction started on July 28 and the government is accepting bids for 27 oil blocks and three gas blocks.

U.S. officials say they are unaware so far whether any U.S. companies have made offers.

Mr. Blinken said he raised the issue separately with Mr. Tshisekedi and Christophe Lutundula, the foreign minister, on Tuesday, and with Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, the prime minister, on Wednesday. He said Mr Tshisekedi had promised him that the proposed actions would not proceed “in the absence of comprehensive environmental impact assessments and studies”.

It’s unclear whether the US intervention will slow down the auction process or its consequences, or spur other nations to try to get involved. But the announcement of the transnational task force was seen as a sign of hope by some academics who have studied threats to the rainforest, particularly because Congolese officials had insisted that the issue of rainforest was a sovereign affair.

“It is very significant that the environmental impacts of oil drilling in the rainforest are being discussed at the highest level,” said Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London. “Logically, the DRC government should now officially halt the oil auction until the new DRC-US working group has concluded its discussions and implemented any short-term actions.

“In my opinion, environmental and social assessments should be carried out before any auction, because it is the only way for the people of the DRC and the world to see if oil exploration makes sense”, he said. he adds.

US officials said they would need to work out the details of the working group with Congo.

Mr Lutundula told the press conference with Mr Blinken that Congo would keep its promise last year to protect rainforests, but also stressed that the government must find ways to improve Congo’s economy , a nation of 90 million people that is one of the poorest in the world. It was operated for decades as a colony of Belgium before being ruled by dictators.

“The challenge is to find a balance, a balance between the well-being of the Congolese and also the need to guarantee a framework, a development framework, an ecological framework,” Mr. Lutundula said.

He also spoke about the history of foreign companies in his country, saying: “We know that there are countries that have been exploiting the wealth of the DRC for years and do not respect biodiversity at all”.

The Congo Basin rainforest stretches for 1,500 kilometers across central Africa. It acts as a large carbon sink, slowing down climate change by eliminating 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide of the atmosphere each year, according to Lewis.

Without solid exploration data, Congolese officials have speculated that up to 16 billion barrels of oil lie beneath the rainforest and that the country could produce up to a million barrels a day, up from 25,000. currently.

Energy companies reaped record profits on oil sales this year as the market price surged. The United States has developed its economy based on fossil fuels, and the US government has close ties with some Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, in part because of their oil-producing capacity. But environmental advocates say Congo’s decision to become a petro-economy is short-sighted, given the growing adoption of renewable energy by many countries, institutions and companies.

Mr. Blinken and Congolese officials also spoke of improving the mining industry, which is plagued by corruption and destructive to the environment. He said the U.S. wanted to work with Congo to ensure mining companies weren’t in “a race to the bottom that ends up hurting workers, harming the environment, fueling armed conflict.” .

Mr. Blinken also urged Congolese officials to ensure that next year’s presidential elections, in which Mr. Tshisekedi plans to run, are held properly and on schedule. On Tuesday, police arrested Jean-Marc Kabund, a former Tshisekedi ally and now leader of an opposition party, on unannounced charges.

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Newsrust - US Top News: US urges Congo to slow oil and gas push into rainforests
US urges Congo to slow oil and gas push into rainforests
Newsrust - US Top News
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