University expert warns selling off DR Congo rainforest for oil drilling could be disastrous

Dr Simon Lewis is calling for an international intervention to stop an immense area of rainforest from being auctioned off by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The DRC is auctioning exploratory oil drilling rights across an immense area of a rainforest on July 28 and July 29. This rainforest is essential to regulating our climate and slows climate change by removing 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. Drilling for oil here could have disastrous effects, not only on the millions of humans and animals living there, but also on the world at large, accelerating the climate crisis significantly.

As well as causing a pollution hazard for the communities and wildlife that rely on the forest for resources, given the country’s fragile economic system and widespread poverty, this could also lead to major civic unrest. Dr Lewis, of the University’s School of Geography, points out that in the 1998-2003 Congo War, more people were killed than in the Second World War, and every measure should be taken to prevent more instability in the country. 

A crucial point of concern is the peat swamps in the area. This bid to search for oil would lead to the cutting of thousands of miles of corridors for equipment transportation. This would make the forest even more accesible to hunters and illegal loggers, endangering the natural sanctuary of flora and fauna. The destruction of the peat in the auctioned area could also lead to the release of up to 5.8 billion tons of carbon. 

If the world is to cut carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050 and stabilize our climate, no investments in new fossil fuels should be made anywhere.

Dr Simon Lewis, Professor, School of Geography

The DRC government believes that up to 16 million barrels of oil could be found under the rainforest. It is believed to be pushing for the auction due to the upcoming presidential election and in hopes of attracting oil companies in the wake of the Ukraine war. However, it is still unclear whether there really are vast amounts of usable oil and if it would make economic sense to export them from such a remote area. Dr Lewis emphasises that even a preliminary survey could greatly damage the biodiversity of the area, and says the case studies of the Peruvian Amazon and Nigeria’s Niger Delta provide ample warning to not go down this route. 

Call for international intervention

Dr Lewis suggests alternatives like exploting reserves of metals like cobalt for dependable revenue. For oil development, other approaches like the community forest model could be explored as well. He also calls for major donors of The Central African Forest Initiative, which includes France, Germany, Norway and Britain, and senior officials from other donor countries like the Unites States, to intervene. 

In order to achieve the net zero goal by 2050 and cut carbox dioxide emissions to prevent further climate crises, Dr Lewis states it’s imperative to cancel this auction and hold off on further investments into new fossil fuels.

Read the full article by Dr Simon Lewis on the New York Times website


Picture Credit: Ma Ti/Unsplash