MAPUTO, Mozambique (AP) – Parts of a well-known tropical peat forest in the Congo Basin, which plays a crucial role in Africa’s climate system, will be auctioned for oil and gas auction in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Thursday.
The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will auction 30 oil and gas blocks in the Cuvette Centrale swamps in the Congo Basin forest – the largest tropical swamp in the world. Peaty soils are known as “carbon sinks” because they contain vast stores of carbon that are released into the atmosphere when the ecosystem is disturbed.
Some of the areas or blocks marked for oil leasing lie within Africa’s famous first conservation area, Virunga National Park, which was established in 1925 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the last bastion of mountain gorillas.
The Congo Basin covers 530 million hectares (1.3 billion acres) in central Africa and accounts for 70% of the continent’s forested area. It is home to over a thousand species of birds and more primates than anywhere else in the world, including the great apes: gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.
Humans are also at risk. Members of the Mbuti and Baka could be expelled or evicted.
The move by Congo-Kinshasa’s hydrocarbons ministry has angered environmentalists and climate activists, who say oil drilling will pose significant risks to a continent already swamped by harsh climate impacts. The Center for International Forest Research puts the massive Cuvette Centrale carbon sink at 145,000 square kilometers (56,000 square miles) and said it stores the equivalent of carbon emissions emitted by the United States for up to 20 years.
Other blocks DRC plans to auction include some on Lake Kivu, Lake Tanganyika and one in a coastal region adjacent to the Albertine Grabben region, the western side of East Africa’s Rift Valley system.
“These are the last refuges of nature’s biodiversity,” and our last carbon sinks, said Ken Mwathe of BirdLife International in Africa. “We must not sacrifice these valuable natural resources to harm development.”
The auction of part of the Congo Basin rainforest, which accounts for 5% of the world’s tropical forests, comes just under a week after the International Union for Conservation of Nature hosted the first African Protected Areas Congress in Kigali, Rwanda. There, the participants decided to strengthen the protection of Africa’s most important biodiversity hotspots.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of 17 nations in the world classified as “megadiverse”. Last September, 137 resolutions dubbed the “Marseille Manifesto” at the World Conservation Congress in France highlighted the significant role the Congo Basin is expected to play in the global commitment to protect 30% of the planet by 2030.
Last year at the UN climate change conference COP26, a dozen donors, dubbed the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use, pledged around $1.5 billion “to work together to reduce forest loss and land degradation by 2030 stop and turn back”.
The Democratic Republic’s carbon sponge is also threatened by large-scale logging, expanding agriculture and the proposed diversion of the Congo River into shrinking Lake Chad.
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