President Tshisekedi and his government seem willing to sacrifice vast forest areas for oil. It would be a disaster for people, biodiversity and the global climate. We want to prevent this project.
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 kilometers, 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. This is the reason for this letter to Mr. Félix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo
We call on you to cancel plans for the development of 16 oil blocks. Opening up DRC’s forests to oil drilling would be an unmitigated disaster for the climate, biodiversity, human rights and the livelihoods of vulnerable populations living in the areas earmarked for development by the fossil fuel industry.
Rainforests are complex ecosystems in which a vast number of animal, plant and fungi species are tightly interdependent. They play a major role in the local and global climate. In a process called photosynthesis, plants absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. With the help of water and sunlight, they form sugar and from it, other plant building blocks. In doing so, plants sequester carbon in stems, leaves and roots while releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.
According to estimates, rainforests sequester 250 billion tons of CO2, much of it in peat forests. Globally, this is equal to 90 times the man-made greenhouse gas emissions per year. 40% of the oxygen in the atmosphere comes from rainforests. While the metaphor of forests as the “lungs of the Earth” does not fit perfectly, it certainly does underscore their vital role.
Rainforests themselves produce a large part of the high year-round rainfall they receive. Evapotranspiration, i.e. the moisture that the plants release through their leaves, is an important aspect here. The forests are hot and humid, but the clouds reflect much of the sunlight back into space – thus cooling the atmosphere. Without this effect, the areas would be even warmer. As carbon sinks and rainmakers, intact forests play an important role in regulating the climate and are crucial to the fight against catastrophic climate change.
Rainforests are increasingly unable to act as climate stabilizers. When they are destroyed for plantations, grazing area or mining projects, vast amounts of greenhouse gases are released. For example, forest fires in Indonesia accounted for one-third of total global emissions in 1997. The loss of peat forests is particularly devastating.
According to a study published by Nature, rainforests could tip from carbon sinks to carbon emitters solely due to changing climatic and growth conditions from 2035 onward – thus accelerating catastrophic climate change.
Because of the intricate interdependencies of the rainforest ecosystem, the entire web can suffer if it is damaged in one place. Take the water cycle, for example. If drier periods occur as a result of global climate change the cycle may break down. This can lead to evergreen, lush rainforests becoming grasslands with far lower biodiversity. The local climate would become drier and hotter.
Rainforests must be preserved because they are indispensable as carbon sinks and their further destruction would worsen the impact of catastrophic climate change. Climate protection is rainforest protection and vice versa.
Covid has shown that we are capable of creating rapid and profound change in the face of an existential crisis. Therefore, in a coalition of organizations from Africa and around the world, we want to prevent these new oil projects. Please sign our joint petition!