Life,  Health

To develop or to protect? Congo rainforest faces dilemma

  At 3:30 am on December 19, 2022, Montreal, Canada, at the last moment before the historic agreement was reached at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), Congo (DRC) (Democratic Republic of the Congo) Representatives declined to agree to the framework, saying it did not guarantee sufficient funding and therefore could not be supported.
  Congo (Kinshasa) is one of the poorest countries in the world, but in terms of natural resources, it is a superpower, with the world’s second largest rainforest – about 60% of the tropical rainforest in the Congo Basin, which is the only carbon-absorbing It is also home to the world-famous Virunga National Park and mountain gorilla habitat.
  Sitting on unique natural resources, Congo (Kinshasa) has become more and more important in the global climate change and nature protection agenda in recent years. However, should we choose development or protection? It is facing a dilemma.
  The Second Green Lung of the Earth The Congo
  Basin is located in central and western Africa, spanning six countries including Congo (Kinshasa), Congo (Brazzaville), Cameroon, and the Central African Republic. It is the largest basin in Africa. The original tropical rainforest here covers an area of ​​314 million hectares, which is the second largest rainforest in the world, of which about 60% is located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa).
  This tropical rainforest bred extremely rich species resources, which can be called “the world’s largest animal gene pool”: more than 10,000 species of plants live here, of which 3,000 are endemic species; there are more than 400 species of mammals, 1,000 species There are many kinds of birds, 200 kinds of amphibians, and even as many as 900 kinds of butterflies.
  In addition, this “world’s second green lung” also plays an important role in regulating the global climate. Because the trees in the Congo Basin are taller than the Amazon rainforest, they are more resilient to climate change and can absorb about 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year.
  Even more valuable is the land beneath the rainforest. There is a huge peatland in the north of Congo (Kinshasa) and Congo (Brazzaville), covering an area of ​​14.55 million hectares, which is equivalent to the size of England. 30 billion tons of carbon are stored here, accounting for 30% of the global carbon sequestration in tropical peatlands, equivalent to the total emissions of global fossil fuels in three years, or about 20 times the amount of carbon released by burning fossil fuels in the United States in one year , is one of the most important carbon sinks on Earth.
  Professor Simon Lewis, who led the Congo peatland research team, pointed out that the conservation of this carbon sink is “absolutely necessary to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.” In this rainforest and peatland, large amounts of carbon dioxide will likely be released into the atmosphere, contributing to the climate crisis.
  Leveraging carbon
  sinks The current President Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was elected in 2019. The country he is in charge of has been ranked among the poorest countries in the world for many years, and it is also facing long-term problems such as rebel rebels in the east, government corruption, and illegal deforestation.
  Counterinsurgency, poverty alleviation, domestic governance, the government needs funds everywhere. Therefore, leveraging forest carbon sink resources and obtaining international financial support has become one of the priorities of the Congolese (Kinshasa) government.
  In July 2021, Bazaiba, the newly appointed Minister of Sustainable Development, submitted a ten-point action plan for reforming forest management, including proposals to lift long-standing bans and open millions of hectares of forests to industrial logging.
  The plan has been widely criticized by the international community. Opponents believe that the Tshisekedi government has held high the banner of forest protection, but its actual actions run counter to it. Greenpeace Africa, the British Rainforest Foundation, and the Norwegian Rainforest Foundation issued a joint statement saying that “the decision to lift the logging ban in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will be a human rights and climate disaster.”
  A few months later, at the COP26 Climate Conference held in Glasgow, UK, Congo (Kinshasa) portrayed itself as a “climate crisis solution country” and successfully signed a US$500 million aid package with many countries to slow down Congo (Kinshasa). gold) deforestation.
  The attempt to use forest carbon sinks as leverage to leverage international resources has yielded the first results.
  Through the partnership, the DRC aims to initially limit forest cover loss to the 2014-2018 average and ensure that deforestation continues to decline. This in turn promotes the regeneration of 8 million hectares of degraded land and forests, and places 30 per cent of the country under conservation status, including areas where local communities are committed to sustainably managing forests.
  ”Auctioning” the Congo Rainforest
  Waiting for financial contributions from rich countries is obviously passive.
  In addition to storing huge amounts of carbon, the land of Congo is also rich in oil and natural gas resources. In the context of soaring international energy prices in the past two years, the Congo (Kinshasa) government is also eyeing this piece of “fossil energy cake”.
  In late July 2022, the Congo (Kinshasa) Ministry of Hydrocarbon Resources took the lead in holding a tender for the right to use 27 oil blocks and 3 natural gas blocks in the capital Kinshasa, authorizing the successful bidder to carry out oil and natural gas operations locally. drilling.
  Representatives of many companies attended the bidding meeting. Congolese (Kinshasa) Minister of Hydrocarbon Resources Didier Boudinbo told the media that energy companies such as France’s Total Energy, Italy’s Eni Group, and the US oil giant ExxonMobil have been involved in the bidding process in the past. Interest was expressed in the tender during the year. In addition, emerging buyers such as carbon credit organizations and cryptocurrency organizations have also expressed interest in the tender.
  President Tshisekedi presided over the bidding ceremony, saying that “the launch of the bidding process … shows that we want to put the potential of resources at the service of our country”, while he said that the production of fossil fuels will boost Congo, one of the poorest countries in the world ( gold) accelerated development.
  While Tshisekedi says the use of modern drilling methods and strict regulation will minimize ecological impact, and denies that the government is reneging on promises to protect the forests, scientists and environmental activists say that some land in these areas overlaps with peatlands. Drilling in these areas will inevitably have serious environmental consequences.
  Professor Simon Lewis estimates that drilling in the blocks tendered by the government could release as much as 5.8 gigatons of carbon, equivalent to more than 14% of total global greenhouse gas emissions in 2021.
  ”In areas where there are peatlands, any industrial extraction would mean detonating a carbon bomb,” said Irene Wabiwa Betoko, head of Greenpeace’s Congo Basin Forest Programme. “No new fossil fuel project is compatible with a 15-degree world. You can’t claim to be the solution country to the climate crisis and at the same time extract oil from peatlands and protected areas.
  ” The area overlaps with Runga National Park, a sanctuary for the endangered mountain gorillas.
  Tosi Mpanu, an adviser to the president and chief climate negotiator, was skeptical when asked whether the Democratic Republic of Congo might abandon drilling in exchange for compensation from rich countries. He cited the example of Ecuador, which requested $3.6 billion in 2007 to compensate for damages caused by not drilling in Yasuní National Park. The compensation program was scrapped in 2013 because it brought in less than 4 percent of the claim amount in actual revenue. Three years later, Ecuador began drilling at the site.
  The Congo (Kinshasa) government believes that as one of the poorest countries in the world, with little support from rich countries in protecting forests, Congo (Kinshasa) has no choice but to develop its own resources. “Our environmental sovereignty is in the hands of the donors who produce billions of barrels of oil a year and no one questions it,” Tosi Mpanu said.
  Analysts said that drilling in the area faces many challenges such as high political risk, high environmental risk, industry regulatory uncertainty and difficult exploration, which may deter many large companies.
  Other analysts see the “auction” as a lever to demand more money from rich countries for climate change mitigation and forest protection, and better control over how the money is distributed.
  A few months later, at the COP27 United Nations Climate Conference held in Egypt, Bazaiba, as one of the representatives of the countries in the global south, called for the establishment of a compensation mechanism for losses and damages, and asked rich countries to provide more financial support. In addition, she has also defended Congo (Kinshasa)’s oil, natural gas and mineral exploration rights on its own land on various occasions.
  ”Just like we need oxygen, we need bread,” she said. Bidding for the 30 oil and gas plots will close in February 2023.
  It is obviously not feasible to put the responsibility of saving the planet on the poorest and most vulnerable countries to climate change, but at the same time, the planet, which is already approaching the tipping point of the climate, can no longer afford to be blamed by underdeveloped countries. The weight of the “traditional” way of developing the economy. To develop or to protect, the dilemma faced by the Congo rainforest requires higher political wisdom.

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